April 15, 2024
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Will there be camp? This is the question of the moment as the weather turns warmer and Zoom school winds down. For most parents, it is simultaneously exciting and terrifying: Yes! My child can finally see friends again and play! But after months of isolating, allowing our children to freely mingle together again feels unnatural. With states reopening at different paces, camps await the decision of local governments regarding if and when they will be able to open.

It may seem that sleep away camps can open with more ease than day camps, since once everyone is acclimated to each other, staff and campers would be one big quarantined family. It sounds good in theory, but the reality is much more challenging. With the plethora of restrictions from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), as well as the states’ red, yellow and green phase-in plans, camps are stuck in a wait-and-see scenario that many are finding too difficult to overcome.

Camps Moshava and Morasha, both located in Wayne County, Pennsylvania, have canceled their programs for this summer reasoning that they could not provide the camp experience that campers and their families have come to know and love under the cloud of COVID-19. Moshava’s letter to parents stated, “Based on what we know now about the very complex set of challenges created by the COVID-19 virus and the guidelines of the State and CDC, we were unable to find the pathway that would enable us to accomplish our goal of running camp in a meaningful and prudent way within the reality of the pandemic. The plethora of requirements, logistics and restrictions would transform camp from that “home away from home” to a different reality for all campers and staff involved.”

Camp Morasha noted that “We are still in a dynamic environment with clinical and epidemiological information changing and unfolding daily, diagnostic testing still largely inaccurate, and no viable therapeutic option available.” Camp leadership realized its inability to comply with many CDC guidelines since, despite the best of intentions, they are unenforceable in a camp environment. The camp’s letter also relayed that nearby Wayne Memorial Hospital
requested Morasha not open its doors since the hospital does not think it could operate safely.

Some of the more difficult CDC guidelines which camps must adhere to:

Align mats or beds so that campers and staff sleep head-to-toe at least 6 feet apart.

Add physical barriers, such as plastic flexible screens, between bathroom sinks and between beds, especially when they cannot be at least 6 feet apart.

Provide physical guides, such as tape on floors or sidewalks and signs on walls, to ensure that staff and campers remain at least 6 feet apart in lines.

If food is offered, have pre- packaged boxes or bags for each attendee instead of a buffet or family style meal. Avoid sharing of foods and utensils.

Face coverings should be worn by staff and campers, and are most essential in times when physical distancing is difficult.

Morasha parent and Englewood resident Debbie Siegler noted, “We are all disappointed that Morasha is cancelled, but we fully support [camp director] Jeremy Joseph’s decision to close camp in the interest of keeping everyone safe. Our kids will make the best of this summer at home and have already started counting down the days to camp in 2021!”

Camp Lavi, also in Wayne County, is taking a different approach. Anticipating the county moving into the green phase this Friday, June 12, which would allow camps to open, the staff has created a Covid-19 Response Plan. The camp will test campers and staff twice before allowing them on the grounds—once at home a few weeks prior to starting and once at the gate when they arrive. Campers will be spaced six feet apart within bunks and be assigned a Family Unit as well: “Camp schedule is being structured so that campers will stay with their Family Unit…for the duration of camp…Campers will be allowed to see and interact with people outside their Family Unit…with recommended social distancing guidelines.”

There will be no busing up to camp, no trips and masks will be required whenever possible. Camp leadership held a town hall meeting Wednesday night, after press time, updating parents with the latest information.

Camp Mesorah is hoping to open as well. As the staff awaits guidance from New York State, Director Ari Katz kept the focus on the campers, “Let’s continue to make every effort to remain positive because our children need to be with their friends, socialize and immerse in their camp experience.” Katz is planning for a July 6 start date and assured parents that “We will be taking every precaution to make sure that every child is safe in camp this summer. We would not open Mesorah 2020 if we did not feel that it was safe.”

Mesorah will be doing dual testing and operating with the family unit or cohort model like Lavi, and also noted that its “medical team will review our social distancing policies throughout the summer and specifically within the first two weeks of camp. This will allow us to safely expand our cohorts and to participate in activities as our larger Mesorah family.”

Day camps are facing many of the same challenges as sleep away camps, yet a number of the popular area camps are preparing to open their doors.

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy issued an executive order allowing youth summer camps to open starting July 6, in compliance with Covid-19 standards, and will release official day camp guidelines in the next couple of weeks.

Moshava Ba’ir, in Paramus, has implemented changes such as smaller bunks of 10 children each, acting as a family unit (much like Lavi) in which social distancing will not be enforced, and a staggered schedule of activities so there is less interaction among campers. Interaction between bunks will be minimal. Many of the usual activities will take place like chinuch, arts and crafts, baking, science and some sports. Masks will be worn at times throughout the day and handwashing will be stressed. The camp awaits the guidelines to determine whether busing will be available.

Camp Regesh, in New York, which can open as soon as June 29, per New York State guidelines, released its own Covid-19 Safety Plan which includes smaller bunks, or households, as well as strict sanitary procedures. Buses will enforce social distancing rules and lunches will be individually packaged. The large outdoor facility makes Regesh attractive to parents who want their children to be outside as much as possible.

One Regesh parent, who wanted to remain anonymous, shared “ Excited for my daughter to have a structured day with friends outside the house, but nervous at the same time. Despite my nerves, I think the structure and socialization of camp is important for kids now after so many months of quarantine.”

Camp Shalom, based in Teaneck, also hopes to open and is appealing to the community to reach out to the Teaneck Board of Education to allow the camp to open in a BOE location, in accordance with state guidelines. “We have been fielding your countless calls and emails about the social and psychological importance of camp this summer—now more than ever before. At this point in time, we need your help and the voice of local parents must be heard to support our children. Please take a moment and reach out to our elected Teaneck BOE officials and tell them that they should allow Camp Shalom to open this summer in Benjamin Franklin [school].” Visit the Camp Shalom website for more information and how to get in touch with BOE officials.

Teaneck-based Camp Acheinu Director Rookie Gross has gone in a different direction, developing online program Camp Kayitz in the Cloud, “an innovative, original and creative online summer experience for boys entering pre-1A through sixth grade” which will feature learning and skills-based workshops like magic, martial arts, drawing and jump roping—all in the comfort of home.

Camps are releasing new information almost daily in this rapidly changing environment and though for many plans are still very much up in the air, Summer 2020 promises to be one that everyone will always remember.

By Michal Rosenberg

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