Summer camp: There are benefits to summer programs, but how do you keep kids safe during a pandemic?

May 6, 2021
kids wearing masks ready for summer camp.
Lynett kids, ready for summer camp. Photo courtesy of Lynett.

Liz Lynett is ready for summer. The Littleton mom of three wants her kids, ages 11, 13 and 15, off electronic devices and outside in the fresh air. Summer camp season cannot get here fast enough.

“They all need the fun, camp experience more than anything,” Lynett said. Like many Coloradans, the Lynett kids endured remote learning and quarantining this school year. It’s been a tough, isolating time with too much screen time and not enough time socializing with friends. Last year, COVID kept her kids from going to any summer camps. This year will be very different.

“COVID is a bit of a concern,” Lynett said. “But the mental health aspect of this is far more important and I know they are ready for some old-school campfires, arts and crafts and swimming.”

“All of it.”

Indeed. Dr. Anne Michele Safley, a primary care physician who practices at UCHealth Primary Care Greenwood Village, is a strong proponent of summer programs having worked as a camp doctor at the same Minnesota camp she attended as a child.

Dr. Anne Michele Safley

“They serve a dual purpose of providing important social and emotional experiences for our children. Our day camps here in the metro Denver area also provide an important form of child care for working parents during the summer months,” Safley said.

CDC guidance for summer camp

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently put out guidelines for summer camps. Jenny Wilczewski, director of summer camp programs at Colorado Academy where kids as young as four attend day camps, said they are committed to providing a safe environment for all campers. Small groups, daily health screenings, vaccinated staff, masking and as many outdoor activities as possible are just a few of the protocols in place.

“We want parents to have peace of mind,” Wilczewski said.

Dr. Larissa Pisney

The CDC rules, plus the recent announcement that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has expanded the emergency use authorization for the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine to include children age 12 years and older, is certainly welcome news, said Dr. Larissa Pisney, an infectious disease expert with UCHealth and mother of a 9-year old who she says will attend summer camp. But it may not be for everyone. She encourages parents to talk with their primary care provider about the risks – particularly for children with underlying medical conditions. And do their homework. A CDC committee on immunization practices also approved COVID-19 vaccine for children 12 years and older on May 12, 2021.

How to get a vaccine

UCHealth is currently providing COVID-19 vaccines for Colorado residents age 12 and older. You do not have to be a UCHealth patient to receive the vaccine. UCHealth is offering two options to get the COVID-19 vaccine:

  • Schedule an appointment through My Health Connection.
  • Walk in to any of our vaccine clinics. Go to uchealth.org/covidvaccine for locations and hours.

“Everyone should know what the camps’ plans are if someone does get sick,” Pisney said. Safley agrees.

“Parents should have open and honest conversations with kids about what camp may look like,” Safley said. “Prepare them to adjust their expectations to cohorting with smaller groups, wearing masks and the possibility they might be isolated if they get sick.”

Prepare for summer camp experiences

The reality is kids get and transmit COVID-19, but the statistics show transmission rates are lower, and they experience milder symptoms. Better to be safe than sorry said Dr. Christopher Moore, a pediatrician who practices in Greeley. He said parents should be extra safe in the week leading up to the start of camp, particularly if you have to travel to get there and to get kids vaccinated if they’re eligible.

Dr. Christopher Moore

“You don’t want to be the family who spreads COVID before camp even starts,” Moore said. “Don’t be afraid to get tested, either, just to be sure.”
Moore is a proponent of summer camp and calls it, “a fantastic learning experience and an opportunity to make lifelong friends.”

“It’s a chance for kids to learn independence without their parents looking over their shoulder.”

That’s exactly what Lynette is hoping for this summer, even if it means extra laundry.

“I want them to come home dirty after a day of ziplining, riding bikes, and playing with friends.”

About the author

Molly Blake is a communications specialist for UCHealth. She joined the team in 2019. Molly spent much of her journalism career freelance writing for various publications including The New York Times, NBC news, alumni magazines and more. She is the proud spouse of a United States Marine Corps veteran, and wrote extensively about their life in the military.

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