Is It Safe to Send Your Child to Day Camp?

For many children, one of the highlights of summer is attending camp, and it’s good for them too. No matter what your child’s interests are, camp helps children develop important social, emotional and cognitive skills and create memories that can last a lifetime. But is it safe to send your child to camp during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-2019) pandemic?

The experts say:

Overnight camps are much higher risk. Day camps are a much better bet, but they should be held outside because fresh air dilutes the virus. Campers and counselors should wear masks. Camps also should be smaller in size and, if possible, last less than four hours (so half-day camps are a better option than traditional full-day ones).

Avoid camps where there is a lot of personal contact, such as a sports camp, says Robert Hutchins, MD, MPH, UNC Health internal medicine physician. “An art camp outside without having to share materials” is preferable, he says.

Factors to consider:

– Is the camp outdoors? Make sure there is enough space that campers can stay 6 to 10 feet apart to reduce the risk of virus transmission.

– How many campers will be with your child? Larger camps mean a higher risk that someone could expose your child to the virus. If you’re planning to have your child spend time with other children, you are assuming that those children and their families have practiced safety measures such as strict physical distancing for at least two weeks before the camp, frequent hand-washing and wearing a mask when they can’t stay 6 feet apart from each other.

“The risk of everyone else and what their behavior has been is multiplicative,” says Emily Sickbert-Bennett, PhD, director of UNC Medical Center Infection Prevention.

– What are the camp’s safety measures and policies, and have those been clearly communicated to participants? Camps should have clear policies about what they are doing to keep your child safe and to minimize the risk of spreading the virus. This can include cleaning and disinfecting procedures (shared equipment should be disinfected between users), daily wellness screenings and temperature checks, and having the campers wear masks when they can’t stay 6 feet apart. Counselors should be trained on signs that a camper is not feeling good.

“The camp should not allow a sick person to stay or work at camp,” Dr. Sickbert-Bennett says.

– Does the camp provide food? Sharing utensils and eating indoors or in close quarters are risky.

“The biggest challenge with eating is you have to take your mask off to eat,” says UNC Health pediatrician Elizabeth Blyth, MD. “If there’s any way to eat outside, that would be ideal. We know there are clusters of COVID cases in which the people had been eating together indoors.”

– Is anyone in your household at high risk for coronavirus complications? This group includes people older than 65 and anyone with a serious underlying medical condition, such as diabetes or heart disease. Camp is a higher risk if anyone in your household is considered high-risk.

How to stay safe:

Avoid overnight camps and camps in areas that have an especially high COVID-19 rate or have seen a recent spike in cases. Be prepared to cancel at the last minute if numbers rise, and prepare your child for that possibility.

Make sure your child wears a mask the whole time he or she is at camp, and encourage frequent hand-washing—especially after using the restroom. Pack a reusable water bottle, hand sanitizer and enough masks each day so that your child can always have one at the ready.

If your child does not want to wear a mask and cannot stay at least 6 feet apart from other children, consider a virtual camp instead.

For the latest information on COVID-19, visit the CDC website and the UNC Health COVID-19 Resources page, and follow UNC Health on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube.