Hello Camp Parents!
We want to assure you of a very important point as we realize that previous emails may have created some confusion.
While we are waiting for our state to allow us to operate this summer, we will be incorporating guidelines and best practices from the best experts in the field, including the national guidelines from the American Academy of Pediatrics. Certainly we will comply with all the requirements of the State of Texas, but that represents a minimum standard, not the one we will adopt.
Please know that we have an extensive and detailed plan for every aspect of camp. In fact, we effectively have two, depending on the specific guidelines we receive from the State. As we have said many times, we want to give you the right answer rather than the fast answer. Once we know which version will be compliant, we will share it with you. In the meantime, please visit this section of our website that provides a broad overview of our approach.
While the Strike Force is working incredibly hard, they are not experts in camp or infectious disease in a camp environment.
For that, we went to the experts.
I’d like to add a little preface here. I’ve been accused of summarizing a 10 minute story into 30 minutes. I ask your grace with the amount of information I will share.
Over the past month, we have had multiple and substantial conversations with the following:
- A Fellow at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) named Dr Laura Blaidsell who has published a scholarly article in The Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal entitled “Pandemic Influenza A in Residential Summer Camps – Maine, 2009”. Dr Blaidsell studied under Dr Michael Osterholm, one of the nation’s foremost leaders in infectious disease. Dr Blaidsell is helping the AAP craft their recommendations for summer camps. She is also married to a camp director and understands the complexities (and realities) of fitting exuberant children into demanding health environments. The AAP recommendations will likely be co-sponsored by the American Camp Association (ACA).
- The ACA, which has been a tremendous resource. I have spoken at length with the CEO and the Chairman of the National Board on over a dozen of occasions. We have discussed best practices and come together with leading camp professionals. The ACA is partnering with a group called Environmental Health and Engineering (EH&E).
- EH&E is a leading health consulting firm. The ACA and Y-USA have retained EH&E to develop extensive and detailed recommendations on all aspects of camp. They are releasing guidelines on how to combine community with social distancing (a concept called “concentric circles” or “cohorts”). Concentric circles are a “best practice” of infectious disease management and public health. EH&E will also describe best practices in mundane, but crucial aspects of camp life, including hand-washing, sterilization and hygiene. When I say “hygiene” they have guidelines for bathrooms, dining facilities, cabins, and individual activities (ranging from ropes courses to pools). I have had the pleasure of speaking with the lead consultant at EH&E (David Shore) about Camp Champions and camps in Texas. We are incorporating their guidelines into our plans and updating our plans as they complete each section. They anticipate completion by the middle of next week.
- A leading epidemiologist who is a professor at a leading medical school. He worries about vulnerable populations, but not camp-aged children. “The flu is a bad analogy to this terrible pandemic, but it is worth noting that this virus is less harmful for children than the common flu”. [Note: one of the “best practices” that we will share is our commitment to the more vulnerable of our nation - both our local community and your communities. Any child that attends any camp (and their care-givers) must realize that there are people in their communities who are truly in jeopardy and that they must accept – no embrace – the responsibility to help them. This will include commitments to quarantining campers after returning from camp.]
- A hedge fund manager with access to leaders in epidemiology and potential viral treatments.
- The local Boys and Girls Club who have been providing child care for the families of essential workers for over a month. They have developed multiple procedures over this time that have helped us, particularly with the use of “concentric circles”.
- Over a dozen leading camp directors from California, North Carolina, New York, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Alabama, Arkansas and Colorado.
- The finest and most professional camp operators in Texas. These people, like those from all the states, are an interesting breed. To a person, they seem willing to close their camps if they believe they will do harm. At the same time, they deeply believe in the camp experience and think that families need camps more now than ever. These people have not been relaxing or popping bon-bons. They have also not been scheming to find ways to open camps. The question I hear over and over again is “how do we balance these deep responsibilities?” I will be honest. Some of our colleagues have decided that the rigor required by the current virus is simply more than they can manage. I deeply respect them. No one signed on for this. But others (including Camp Champions) believe that we have an obligation to serve campers and families even if it is really challenging to do so.
In addition to these conversations, I have a massive file of articles focusing on all aspects of the virus, particularly in how it affects young people. In short, I am not a physician or an epidemiologist. I have not studied public health. But I have obsessed with learning as much as I can and how it will impact the camp experience this summer.
Please let me be transparent. I do not think it will be easy to be a camp director this summer. We will be changing schedules, traditions and hygiene standards. Counselors will need to be especially dedicated as they will be extremely limited in their ability to leave our property. We will need to be committed and diligent.
I have no doubt that it will be rewarding, but we expect to be exhausted. We are over-hiring staff with this reality in mind. We could financially survive a summer without camp, but this would be antithetical to our mission, to our purpose.
Over the next few days (assuming that we will be able to have camp), we will share more details about how we would operate camp. It will be different, from openings to dining to every activity. But it will be camp.
That still makes me smile.