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Day camps show promise for students' return to school, experts say

Local health, summer camp and school experts are discussing how data from camp attendance may affect students returning to school in the fall and answering your questions.

The few coronavirus infections at Long Island day camps this summer bodes well for schools hoping to reopen this fall, according to a panel of local experts who spoke Tuesday at a Newsday Live web event.

Sharon Nachman, chief of pediatric infectious diseases at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, said that with one exception so far, measures to prevent the virus' spread at local day camps this summer appear to be working.

“I think it’s very reassuring,” she said. “It teaches us that we can safely bring those kids and their staff members or their teachers back to school.”

The discussion came one month after New York State permitted day camps to open and days before the July 31 deadline for local school districts to submit reopening plans to the state for review. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo did not permit sleepaway camps to open this summer. He has said he will announce between Aug. 1 and Aug. 7 whether schools may reopen this fall.

While COVID-19 has spread widely at some camps around the country this summer, only one small outbreak has been reported at a Long Island day camp.

In Dix Hills, five staff members tested positive for COVID-19 at Park Shore Country Day Camp, the director of the facility said Monday. A few groups of campers are quarantining for 14 days. None have tested positive.

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Mark Transport, president of the Long Island Camps & Private Schools Association and co-owner of the Crestwood Country Day Camp in Melville, said his campers undergo health screenings upon arrival and only eat with their designated cohort groups. They spend almost all of their time outdoors but wear masks indoors. 

He said those safety measures appear to have mitigated the spread of other common illnesses as well.

“There are not the normal summer colds and coughs” this year, he said.

Rebecca Bilski, director of pupil personnel services and student support services for the Hauppauge School District, noted a similar drop in strep throat and summer viruses among district summer school students.

The district’s safety measures include having students eat lunch in their classrooms at their desks, which are spaced 6 feet apart.

To safely reopen schools, Nachman called social distancing a “minimum” requirement and said students should wear masks in hallways and on buses. She said districts should prioritize getting younger children back to school and consider hybrid schedules for older students, who might spend half the school day or week learning from home.

The panelists stressed the value of reconvening both camps and schools if it is safe to do so.

“I have never seen kids happier in my life,” Transport said of campers this summer.

“I just hope there’s a way to continue this and have schools safely, because it means so much to the mental health and just the whole sense of wellness for children.”

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