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Joanna Collar checks in every week with her sons, Jake, 12, and Will, 9, to see how they are feeling about being in social isolation. “Is anything worrying you?” the Plainview mom asks. Recently, Jake responded: “I just hope we can go to camp.”
Summer camp owners and directors across Long Island say they are still planning to open — although modifications may be in place such as a later season start date, fewer or no field trips and a limitation on visitors to campgrounds.
“The state sees us as an essential business in child care,” says Mark Transport, co-owner of Crestwood Country Day Camp in Melville and president of the 25-member Long Island Camps and Private Schools Association.
To figure out what camp this year may look like, owners have been gearing up, with directors meeting jointly on video calls to discuss safety recommendations and organizing their particular staffing and maintenance needs.
“Summer might be the bright light in a very prolonged quarantine period,” says Lauren Brandt Schloss, executive director of the Usdan Summer Camp for the Arts in Wheatley Heights.
While camp directors are planning, some parents are looking forward to the prospect, some are still waiting to make their decision, and others have already told their children they won't be attending this year.
Schloss says enrollment numbers could go either way. “Camp might feel like too much of a luxury if you’re financially stressed,” she says. On the other hand, parents may want to offer their children a respite after quarantining and also may need the child care if they are required to begin to return to work, she says.
WHAT PARENTS SAY
“We’re still getting people enrolling, but not at the level we normally do. People are waiting,” says Tamar Simpson, director of marketing and communication for the YMCA of Long Island, with five locations.
Karen Alford, director of client relations for Camp Specialists of Jericho, which helps parents seek out the right camp for their children, says families are still doing virtual online "tours" of camps.
“The thought of camp not happening is the most far-fetched thing,” says Leslie Terranova, 40, a part-time speech therapist from Oyster Bay Cove whose two older children, Charlie, 7, and Lexie, 5, attend Crestwood Country Day Camp. “I’ve been keeping my mindset positive that it will happen.”
Jake says he's happy his parents are still planning to send him to sleepaway camp. He is looking forward to spending days on the camp’s lake, playing sports, and reconnecting with the other campers he sees every summer. “It’s always fun to see my camp friends,” he says. “They’re my second family.”
But other families have decided not to send their kids to camp even if they are open.
"With coronavirus, there's so much uncertainty," says Daniella Passarelli, 30, a yoga instructor from East Islip who says that even though she's disappointed her kids, who are 6 and 3, will miss the summer experience, she doesn't want to take any chances at all. "It's not the regular flu, where you know what's going to happen. I don't want to expose my kids. Next summer they'll definitely go."
Sarah Moore, 34, a physician assistant from Farmingdale, has made the same choice for her four children, ages 2, 9, 10 and 13, three of whom have asthma. "We're just going to have to figure out other ways to stay busy," she says.
HOW CAMP WILL BE DIFFERENT
For the parents who decide to move forward with their children's camp plans, directors say they feel this season may offer a break after quarantining. “We feel this summer will be the most important camp season in history. This will be a chance to reset to normal for kids," says Transport, of Crestwood Country Day Camp.
But that doesn’t mean it will be business as usual, camp directors say, as they make plans to protect the health and safety of campers and staff in cooperation with the county departments of health that license them.
“I already know camp is not going to operate 100 percent normally,” says Will Pierce, owner and director of Pierce Country Day Camp in Roslyn; the Pierce family also owns a sleepaway camp called Pierce Camp Birchmont in Wolfeboro, N.H., which Jake and Will Collar attend. “We will be in lockstep with all the public health guidance at that time.”
That will likely mean being even more diligent with the number of times surfaces and changing rooms are disinfected, Transport says. Electrostatic sanitizers — the backpack-type devices that look like a ghostbuster sprayer — may be used, for instance, he says. It's possible that parents may have to drive their children to camp if children sitting in buses together is deemed too high density, Transport says.
“Safety has been paramount in our industry. We’ve always had to deal with safety — lifeguards, nurses, food,” says Bob Budah, co-owner of Park Shore Country Day Camp and Extreme Steam Science Kids in Deer Park. “Now more than ever it is important to go to a licensed camp following health department regulations.”
Camps are also solving staffing challenges, especially sleepaway camps that rely to varying degrees on overseas students working for the summer. “It’s very unlikely they’ll be able to fly into the United States and get visas,” Transport says.
On the other hand, many college students whose internships or summer study abroad programs have been canceled may be looking for summer positions at camps. “That seems to balance itself out,” Pierce says.
Jay Jacobs, who owns three-day camps on Long Island — North Shore Country Day Camp in Glen Cove, Hampton Country Day Camp in East Hampton and Southampton Country Day Camp — and three sleep-away camps, Timber Lake Camp and Timber Lake West in the Catskills and Tyler Hill Camp in Wayne County, Penn, says he thinks that some parents may be happy to have their children away at a resident program no matter the changes.
“We need camp now more than ever,” says Collar, 42, a graphic artist for Adelphi University, whose husband, Chris, 45, is a construction project manager. “They’ve been cooped up now for over a month and God knows how much longer. We’re really hoping that things will settle down and they’ll be able to go.”
‘Summer Starts Now’
To keep children connected to the camp community, Usdan has launched a free “Summer Starts Now” website with three categories of content — learn, create and watch. The learn section has prerecorded lessons such as art and mime, the create section has suggestions such as things to make with a toothpaste box, and the watch section has selections such as a Yo-Yo Ma performance or Alvin Ailey dance archives, she says.
The camp has launched a “Good Neighbor Discount” for 12 ZIP codes within five miles of the Usdan campus. For those residents, Usdan slashed the seven-week price from $6,300 to $4,500; the camps three and four weeks sessions have also been discounted, Schloss says. In addition, this year no deposit is required.