Facing An Uncertain Summer, Camps Make Plans And Wait

May 12, 2020

Summer camp directors across the Tri-State are in limbo. As the economy slowly reopens, they're anxiously awaiting directives from state leaders about how or if they'll be able to operate this summer.

"What we're hearing from most camps is that if they haven't postponed their entire summer, they are canceling their programs in June and are looking to start back up in July," says Elizabeth Cochran, chair of American Camp Association (ACA)-Ohio Local Council of Leaders and executive director at Camp Ernst in Burlington, Ky.

One Ohio camp director who wished not to be named tells WVXU they think Gov. Mike DeWine has been doing a good job handling the COVID-19 crisis, but are frustrated by the lack of instructions for moving forward. Many camp operators had been expecting those details Monday, May 11, but the governor instead announced he's not yet ready to state a reopening date for child care centers.

"What many camp directors in Ohio have done is take a look at the guidance for the pandemic care - child care centers which are serving our first responders and hospital workers - and try to figure out how we can translate that model to a summer camp model," Cochran says.

Cochran points out every camp is different and has different concerns ranging from how kids get to camp - buses present an additional level of cost and spacing concerns - to reducing group sizes, staggering activities, how to do social distancing, and changing food service for overnight camps and considering sleeping arrangements.

In Ohio, representatives from various industries are participating in working groups to lay out best practices for reopening. Cochran says camps, who must follow the guidance of state and local health officials in order to maintain operating permits, want to be part of that discussion.

"We really are looking to them to give us a nod and to say 'This is how you can do this,' or to invite us to the table and work with us on language and situations where we might be able to offer the best possible experience for the kids of our region this summer."

It's especially sad for the kids, Cochran says, who have been missing out on seeing friends and experiencing the growth that comes from being with their peers.

Camp leaders are feeling the pull for answers from multiple sides. Parents facing an uncertain summer are trying to figure out if they'll have a place for their kids to go or if they need to think about alternate arrangements. Camp counselors and staff members need to know if they'll have jobs. These jobs are largely seasonal, leaving directors unsure of what to tell existing staff or whether they should continue hiring new workers.

It's definitely a challenge, says Cochran, who explains her rule of thumb is "You don't start something new after February. Now here we are in the middle of May and we're trying to figure out new models for making things work."

Other types of camps, like those run by the Cincinnati Recreation Commission or museums, arts organizations, colleges and more, are also waiting to see what they will or will not be able to offer this summer.