Traditionally, the kids at Camp Amy Molson all gather each morning around a big brass bell to hear the day’s announcements.
But with crowding prohibited in response to the pandemic, organizers of the overnight camp in Grenville-sur-la-Rouge, Que., west of Montreal, had to come up with a new way of doing things for when it opens next week. Drawing on the adventurous spirit of camp, they landed on an alternative that would still appeal to kids.
“We’re going to have a town crier who travels to the ‘bubbles’ in full costume and makes the announcements,” said Shauna Joyce, the camp’s executive director.
Across the country, overnight camps will look much different this summer. But the camps that are operating during the pandemic for the first time – only overnight camps in New Brunswick got the green light to open last year – are determined to find a way to abide by COVID-19 protocols while still giving kids the traditional camp experience.
“We’re not going to give things up, but they are going to be different,” said Jack Goodman, chair of the Ontario Camps Association’s COVID-19 task force and owner and director of Camp New Moon in Baysville, Ont.
That means campers will be put in cohorts this year, and any family visits are out – but for many parents, it’s a fair trade-off to give their kids something resembling a normal summer.
“They’ve been excited since October,” entrepreneur Claude D’Souza said of his two children, 12 and 10, who will be attending overnight camp at Moncton’s Camp Centennial this summer.
Mr. D’Souza said any anxiety he might have about sending his children to camp during the pandemic are more than eased by the protocols in place, including daily health checks and not allowing parents past the gates once they drop off their kids.
“It’s all common sense,” he said.
Most kids across the country will have a similar experience: They’ll be placed in cohorts of up to 15, akin to a family bubble in which they won’t have to wear masks indoors but will have to maintain at least two metres of physical distance from other campers at all times.
Such physical-distancing requirements have been “the biggest loss,” said John Savage, owner and director of Camp Centennial. Before the pandemic, the camp would play host to weekly bonfires attended by up to 1,000 people, mostly local friends and family, who would watch campers perform skits and sing songs.
Instead, there will be smaller campfires for each group attending the camp, Mr. Savage said.
At Camp New Moon, however, the campfire is going to be bigger than ever – as will the distance between campers.
“We’re going to have a campwide campfire, but we’re going to have it in a huge field with a bonfire in the middle and [the] cohorts will be six feet apart,” Mr. Goodman said.
Even amid strict protocols, the biggest concern for summer camps is the possibility of a camper testing positive for COVID-19.
In Quebec, campers will be required to have a COVID-19 test 48 hours prior to arriving at camp. In Ontario, New Brunswick and British Columbia, campers will not be required to undergo a test prior to arrival. In Ontario, campers are being asked to self-isolate for 14 days before heading to camp.
If a camper does test positive while at camp, they will be quarantined until a parent or guardian can pick them up. They will be allowed to return after 10 days to camps running for longer durations if they are symptom-free, Mr. Goodman said.
What happens to the rest of their cohort if a camper tests positive is at the discretion of local public-health authorities, Mr. Goodman said.
The careful considerations around how to ensure a safe experience extends even to the activities kids would typically expect at camp – mess halls won’t be ringing with rousing renditions of classic camp songs this time around.
“Singing indoors is not permitted for this summer,” said Lauren Marutt, program co-ordinator for the B.C. Camps Association.
While restrictions imposed by COVID-19 protocols can be challenging, camp operators are thrilled to be able to offer programs this summer after most stayed closed last year.
But in some provinces, other camp operators are still waiting for that opportunity.
In Manitoba, overnight camps likely won’t be able to open until August, and only then if the province reaches its target of 80 per cent of kids 12 and older having had their first dose of the vaccine and 50 per cent having their second dose, said Kim Scherger, executive director of the Manitoba Camping Association.
Even then, overnight camps will be permitted to operate only at 50-per-cent capacity, Ms. Scherger said.
The delays camp operators across the country faced in waiting to know if they’d be allowed to open has forced many to abandon their usual programming, said Stephane Richard, president of the Canadian Camping Association.
“Unfortunately there are still a lot of camps that are not going to be operating, or not operating on the model that they were intending on,” he said.
Mr. Richard estimates that anywhere from 40 to 50 per cent of overnight camps in Canada have already decided to remain closed for this summer or offer some sort of alternative programming, such as family camps or day camp.
He added that, while families able to send their kids to overnight camp this summer are celebrating the return of a beloved tradition, the COVID-19 crisis has pushed the industry to focus on its long-term adaptability.
“That’s the ongoing conversation now,” Mr. Richard said. “How do we ensure that all of these camps are able to survive the pandemic situation?”
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