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Seneca (and Science) Save the Summer

(Courtesy of Camp Seneca Lake) This week, Camp Seneca Lake will close its gates on a season to remember. However, the summer respite so many kids desperately needed would never have happened without some best-in-class contingency planning, COVID-19 testing, some hard tradeoffs, strict precautions and major expenditures along the way. It was worth it.

August 5, 2020: Honesdale, PA

In May of this year, staffers and campers at Camp Seneca Lake received a detailed message that camp would open and stay open for the summer as Wayne County, Pennsylvania entered its green phase. Campers were excited, but parents and staffers had a lot to prepare. In addition to packing and traveling, everybody coming up to camp had to complete two important steps: 1) provide a negative test result within 10 business days of the start of camp and 2) test negative again upon arrival. Rapid tests were not considered enough and no compromises were made on safety. Extra doctors were hired for the season to accommodate professional schedules, including specialists from some of the nation’s busiest ER’s and pediatric care units. A dedicated team of doctors and nurses were consulted heavily with each decision such as how to implement testing and reducing bunk capacity to allow proper distancing and ventilation.

Opening day was a daunting effort. Campers needed to arrive at assigned times by their own transportation, no buses or commingling of any sort until every confirmed negative test came back. Putting safety first, a small number of people had to be turned away due to presumptive or positive results, and a busload of campers from Florida were told not to begin their journey after consulting the Department of Health for quarantine requirements.

Over the first two weeks, the Seneca leadership took extra precaution to make sure campers and staff were safe. Meals were served in bunks and campers attended activities in small cohorts. All over campus there was visible extra cleaning, social distancing between bunks and staggered prayer and meal schedules even during normally communal times like the Jewish Sabbath.

Everyone wore a mask, no exceptions.

Irv Bader, camp director, told the kids early on “when you call your parents and tell them you’re having fun, please make sure to tell them we are all cooperating to stay safe.” But finally, while nothing was guaranteed, the restrictions were able to be relaxed when a full two weeks after camp opened no positive cases were reported (including full lab testing on each and every reported sore throat or headache) and the camp had created a cozy-but-necessary 350 person quarant-team! For the next few weeks, we were all one family for all intents and purposes.

A bombastic (but still cohorted by division) end-of-quarantine dance party was thrown, prayer services were held in the synagogue and kids of all ages have now fully engaged in a few short but precious weeks of all-out camp including championship leagues, paintball skirmishes, lake activities and of course: color war! Even Seneca’s famous late-night staff basketball tournaments and barbecues were back. As Bader commented “I don’t blame any other camp for not opening this year. It was hard to stay organized, hard to reassure staff and parents and not a great year for business. But seeing all these kids safe, happy and active is why I’ve been doing this my entire life, and I’m so grateful to Seneca parents for believing our team could get it done.”

This year more than ever, there is a special nostalgia and longing to keep this going. Nobody wants to go back to “reality.” Adults and kids are wondering what lies ahead—extended working from home hours, classes by Zoom, continued fear, pause and disruption across all aspects of life. However, for a few weeks, Seneca saved our summer, and let us connect, make new friends and embrace familiar ones—in person—while making sure we were safe and creating memories. The only question left is who will take the bragging rights this year: red or white?

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