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Youth camp leaders say they're ready for a safe and busy summer

A local doctor and camp experts discuss the

At a Newsday Live Webinar on Thursday, a physician, along with camp officials, discussed the question of reopening summer camps safely and what children can expect this year.

Long Island parents "should feel very comfortable" sending their children to camp this year, according to camp officials who participated in a Newsday Live Webinar, "Education and COVID-19: Summer's Coming, Camp is Calling."

"We feel so confident because of this past summer," said Dan Weir, senior director of program development for the YMCA of Long Island, during the Thursday event. Many day camps stayed open during 2020, implementing state health department recommendations, he said.

"We had zero [COVID-19] cases last summer," Weir said of the YMCA. Just one Long Island day camp saw coronavirus cases but spread was contained.

"On top of many things," he said, "camp is mostly outdoors," which lessens the chance of virus spread.

While parents who sent their children to camp last summer "took a leap of faith," this year they can be reassured because camps across Long Island have joined together to share tried-and-true practices that kept children safe during 2020, said Mark Transport, immediate past president of the Long Island Camps and Private Schools Association, and owner-director of Crestwood Country Day Camp in Melville. Those practices included pre-camp testing, daily temperature checks, cohort groups, mask-wearing and "an inordinate amount of protocol," he said.

"Schools and camps are very safe, and their numbers are lower than the surrounding communities, so parents should feel very comfortable sending their kids to camp and school," Transport said.

By summer 2021, staff members who are teachers may have been vaccinated already, and Transport said he is hoping that government promises that everyone who wants a vaccine will be able to get one by Memorial Day will enable other counselors to have immunity as well. While Transport can't mandate that staff members be vaccinated, it will be "strongly urged," he said.

For counselors who are in college or high school, the camp directors make clear to them during training how important it is they use caution when outside of camp so they don't bring the virus into the camp community, Transport said.

"We drill that in their heads from orientation on ... They bought into exactly what we asked them to do, and that was to be responsible," he said.

Even busing can return, because it has not been associated with infection spread, said Dr. Sharon Nachman, chief of the division of pediatric infectious diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital.

In addition, New York sleepaway camps can reopen, said Mark Newfield, owner of Iroquois Springs Sleep Away Camp in the Catskills, where a quarter of the campers are from Long Island. It was "gut-wrenching" to close last summer, he said.

The camp has invested in tents for dining and programming and will try to do as much as possible outside, he said. Campers will be tested for Covid prior to arrival, on the first day, three to five days after arrival and at intervals during the summer, Newfield said.

While there were super-spreader events at several overnight camps across the country last summer, "we learned from all of those experiences," Nachman said.

Transport said that in theory it should be easier for residential camps to keep staff and campers isolated.

"We did have the extra burden of people going home every night and every weekend," he said.

Campers who would have attended their final Iroquois Springs sleepaway camp last summer before aging out will be able to return for the summer of 2021, Newfield said, adding that this year’s motto is "how do you fit two years of fun into one summer."

"We're on the phone every day with families," he said. "They can't wait; we can't wait."

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