Your kids’ favorite summer camp will be a little different this year – but at least there’s a good chance it’s open.
Premier Doug Ford announced the camps would “open” while speaking at a mass COVID-19 vaccination clinic on Sunday, but he was light on the details. Health Minister Christine Elliott told reporters on Monday that the province “is looking at both day camps and night camps.”
“We know this is an issue that concerns many families and of course the operators of these camps are concerned,” Elliott said.
“We are monitoring all of these issues very closely. But again, it’s a question of what the clinical data is telling us and when it’s safe to reopen it.
Now a clearer picture is emerging of what summer camps might look like this year. Don’t expect singing or dancing in dining rooms, self-service meals, or unmasked neck-and-neck kumbayas at the campfire – unless the kids are with their cohorts.
In what might be the biggest change, it is proposed that the camps divide into cohorts, or break into small groups and stick to them.
“Groups of huts, for example, will become households and stay away from other huts. And when they can’t, they’ll wear masks, ”said Jack Goodman of the Ontario Camps Association.
For example, if the children are canoeing and the instructor is not in that cohort, they will need to stay away or wear a mask if they cannot physically distance themselves.
Sleepaway camps were closed in all provinces except New Brunswick last summer due to COVID-19 restrictions. Earlier this month, Quebec announced that day and night camps would be allowed to open this summer.
The Ontario Camp Association is working with the provincial government to develop a ‘guide’ that will provide guidelines for camp directors and public health units so that they can open their doors in early July or possibly. be even at the end of June.
Many of the guidelines will sound familiar to you: physical distancing and masks as needed, and monitoring symptoms closely.
“They will have very specific protocols for assessing children who have symptoms that may or may not be COVID, so outbreak management procedures will be cut down to the smallest detail,” Goodman said.
Children will need to self-quarantine to the best of their ability before arriving and stay six feet from each other indoors when not with their cohorts. It is not known what the size of the cohort groups will be; it will probably be based on the size of each individual camp.
Vaccinations will not be part of the required criteria for children and staff, but Jackman said it “will definitely help” and it will be up to individual camps to make the last call. He noted that it was “very likely” that children over 12 and staff had at least their first injection within the following month. Beginning Tuesday, all Ontarians 18 and older this year will be able to book vaccine appointments through the provincial reservation system, while teens 17 and under should be able to take photos in June.
The Ontario Medical Association welcomed the expanded eligibility criteria and urged the government to “reopen more outdoor recreational facilities to improve people’s physical and mental health.”
The Camp Association hopes the camps will roll out rapid COVID testing when children arrive and again during their stay. Staff will likely have to stay put on their days off.
Jacob Rodenburg, executive director of Camp Kawartha, said his staff would receive two weeks of on-site training before the opening, which will serve as a sort of quarantine period.
He said his organization was “pleasantly surprised” by Ford’s announcement and that camp operators were anxious to receive the guidance as they need clarity on what will and will not be allowed.
But the news comes too late for some – Camp Kennebec, for children with special needs, has decided it cannot function this year, while others have chosen to run family camps.
Pat Birnie, director of Arrowhead Camp, said they needed the guidance towards the end of May so they can start ordering personal protective equipment and other essentials if they hope to open in the first week of July.
“I’m approaching this summer in the most conservative way possible… hopefully when the playbook comes out, those extra steps we’re taking might not need to be done because there will be enough layers. protection, ”he added.
It is not only the camps that are impatient, but also the parents. Birnie said that within 10 minutes of Ford’s announcement, he asked 10 families to sign up for his camp (which the Prime Minister himself attended once, but at a different location).
In response to parents and children who took part in a letter-writing campaign on May 8, Ford said he had “wonderful memories” of canoeing, swimming and camping at Camp Arrowhead, before pivoting quickly and to remind everyone that the province is in a difficult situation. in law. “
“Our government is closely monitoring the evidence and consulting with summer camp officials, public health experts and local medical officers to determine if and when current measures can be relaxed. We will provide more details on what the coming weeks will look like before June 2, ”he said.
In his Sunday announcement, Ford said the camps usually open around July 3 and his remarks made it seem like the province was aiming to make this viable.
Goodman said the association and the province were “very close” to firming up the guidelines and that they would be subject to change depending on the COVID-19 situation in Ontario.
“We are ready to take these punches … We believe that we can confidently, but with caution and responsibility, operate our camps as directed.”
During normal summers, more than 500,000 children camp in Ontario at more than 400 association camps, Goodman said.
The good news comes as parents grow frustrated with the lack of activities for children and more and more evidence emerges on the mental health effects of confinements on children. Additionally, the province appears to be rebounding from wave three – Ontario administered 154,104 shots on Friday, a new daily record. On Monday, the province reported 2,170 COVID-19 cases and four deaths – the lowest daily death toll since March.
With files from The Canadian Press, Rob Ferguson, Kristin Rushowy and Breanna Xavier-Carter