Summer Camps Face Decisions About How To Operate As Pandemic Eases

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Businesses and local universities are making adjustments following the CDC’s new COVID-19 protocols that call for vaccinated people to safely take off their face masks if they choose.

While local summer camps are now permitted to operate as they did before COVID-19, many must make decisions on how exactly to do so.

That decision was particularly difficult for the managers at Camp Kesem in Gainesville.

“Because we deal with mainly immunocompromised families, we did not and cannot risk it,” said Emily Dolce, Camp Kesem’s co-director.

This summer camp is different from many others; it is only offered for students who have an immediate family member currently or previously suffering from cancer. Because of this, Dolce said, the camp must remain extremely vigilant when it comes to COVID-19. The camp is typically offered as a weeklong, overnight session for campers. However, the session will be held virtually this year, as it was last year.

“I think the Kesem At Home Camp has been a positive experience, but I know everyone is hoping to get back to normal,” Dolce said.

Despite this, other camps are offering in-person options. Cameron Dancenter Camp teacher Jeri-Lynn Rapczak has struggled with virtual dance classes throughout the pandemic. Although they were able to return to in-person classes in the fall and spring, Rapczak emphasized the difficulties of holding last year’s summer classes and camp over Zoom.

“Things like spatial awareness and the energy that’s in a room during a dance class are different online,” she said.

The fall and spring dance classes followed CDC guidelines of masking and social distancing. With recent recommendations suggesting masks are not required in all indoor settings, the camp is considering how to move forward. The studio hopes to follow a similar approach to their fall and spring classes and will remain careful.

“We may be a little bit more open to the masking, but as of right now, our dancers 12 and under cannot get vaccinated and we want to keep our dancers safe,” Rapczak said.

Other camps in north central Florida are also happy to return to a traditional experience, especially the Girl Scouts of Gateway Council. The camp has two campsites, one of which is in Hawthorne. TriciaRae Stancato, Chief Operations and Development of Officer for the Girl Scouts of Gateway Council, said the council plans to implement vigilant measures to ensure a safe and healthy summer.

“We follow the communicable disease plans from the CDC and the American Camp Association,” she said.

In addition, the camp will be placing campers in smaller groups, reducing camp capacity and encouraging a seven-day quarantine for girls before they arrive. Campers will not be required to wear masks outside; however, Stancato said the camp will continue to observe national guidelines and adjust accordingly if necessary. She emphasized that while virtual options will be available, being outside is a very important element of Girl Scout camp.

“Girl Scout camp is a critical part of a girl’s development; she learns to take healthy risks and make new friendships,” said Stancato.

Stancato adds there are some virtual camp categories, like the Girl Scout cybersecurity camp, that pair well with technology. For this summer, she said there is a roughly 4:1 ratio of those Girl Scouts attending camp in-person.

Currently, children 12 and older qualify for the COVID-19 vaccine. All camps said they will pay attention to any new guidelines and adjust as the summer goes on.

About Violet Comber-Wilen

Violet is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.

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