COVID-19 is an ongoing concern for parents. Although more and more people are getting vaccinated, young children have not yet been approved for the vaccine. With summer on the horizon and kids looking forward to resuming some normalcy, many parents are wondering whether their child should attend camp this year.
Unfortunately, this can be a challenging question for families, says Jeffrey Kahn, M.D., Director of Infectious Disease at Children's Health℠ and Professor at UT Southwestern. "Camps offer many opportunities and benefits for children, but we do not know how the pandemic will evolve over the coming months. Hopefully, we will continue to see a drop in the number of cases. However, some states are seeing an increase in cases and these trends are quite concerning," he says. "Further, many of the variants identified in various countries are now circulating in the U.S., including in North Texas."
While there may be no clear-cut answer to this question, you can consider trusted facts to help you make an informed decision and take steps to keep your family healthy.
Consider how COVID-19 spreads
COVID-19 spreads mainly from person to person through respiratory droplets released when talking, coughing or sneezing. This means that activities like camp can carry increased risk for the spread of viral infections, because they bring together large groups of people.
However, there are ways that camps can reduce spread of COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), if you're considering a summer camp for your child, camps with lower risk of COVID-19 spread include ones that:
- Break campers into smaller groups that remain together for the duration of the camp program
- Encourage physical distancing
- Have mainly outdoor activities
- Require masks
Consider your child and your family's health
When considering summer camp for your child, it's important to know your own family's risk. What's right for one family may not be best for yours.
"If families are considering summer camp for their children, the first question to ask is whether the child or any household members are at high risk for severe COVID-19," says Dr. Kahn. "While children seem to be less prone to serious infection, they can and do get infected and can and do transmit the virus to others. If there are high risk individuals in the household, parents may want to reconsider summer camps for their children."
You can also take into account if all eligible household members, including children 12 and older, have been vaccinated yet. "These vaccines are highly effective in protecting against COVID-19, so the best piece of advice for families is for everyone who is able to get vaccinated," adds Dr. Kahn. "This is true even if there are no high-risk individuals in the household."
You must also understand your personal situation and what's best for your child. Many parents do not have the option to stay home with their children during summer or have other factors to consider.
How to keep your child healthy at summer camp
If you decide to send your child to a summer camp, it's important to be proactive about encouraging healthy habits and taking steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
1. Find out what safety plans are in place
Ask camp administrators what precautions are in place to help prevent or limit the spread of COVID-19 among the camp counselors, staff and children. The CDC has issued updated guidance for youth summer camps. Read through these recommendations, as well as state and local orders, and consider asking these questions:
- Are camp counselors and staff screened each day?
- Are counselors, staff and children required to wear face masks?
- Are the majority of activities outside?
- How are you increasing ventilation for indoor activities?
- How are snacks and meals handled?
- How are surfaces, camp tools and other items cleaned?
- How is proper hand hygiene encouraged?
- How will camp counselors help children follow safety rules?
- How will physical distancing be managed?
- What happens if someone becomes sick?
- Are you encouraging those who are eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine?
2. Take steps to boost your child's overall health
Before summer camp starts, continue to encourage healthy habits that are important for your child's overall health.
- Encourage a well-balanced diet.
- Stay current on your child's routine vaccinations and well-visit checks.
- Get the right amount of sleep to reduce susceptibility to illness.
- Exercise as a family and help your child stay active each day.
3. Encourage behaviors that reduce the spread of COVID-19
It's important to teach and reinforce behaviors that help reduce the spread of COVID-19. For children 12 years and older, getting the COVID-19 vaccine is a safe and effective way to prevent illness. Make sure your child also understands the importance of precautions such as:
- Wearing a mask.
- Cleaning and sanitizing hands properly.
- Covering coughs and sneezes.
- Maintaining appropriate physical distancing from others.
If your child is attending an overnight camp, take steps ahead of time to reduce exposure to COVID-19, such as a prearrival quarantine. Overnight camps may also ask for a negative COVID-19 test before camp begins.
4. Know the symptoms of COVID-19
If your child has symptoms of COVID-19 or has close contact with a person with COVID-19, keep them home from camp. Children with mild cases may experience cold-like symptoms, such as a fever, cough and runny nose. Some children have also reported gastrointestinal symptoms. Contact your pediatrician if you are concerned about your child's symptoms. They can help determine if testing is needed.
5. Have a backup plan
Lastly, be prepared with a backup plan in the event your summer camp needs to close temporarily. Be aware of your camp's policies in this case and think about what you would do if your child had to be home or quarantine.
Consult your pediatrician
The question about whether to send your child to summer camp is a personal family decision. Because your pediatrician is familiar with your child's overall health, it may help to talk to your doctor if you have a specific concern about your child, especially if they have a chronic medical condition.
Children's Health is committed to remaining a trusted source of health information and care for you and your family during this time. See more resources to keep your family healthy at the Children's Health COVID-19 hub.
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