Keeping kids safe at Raleigh-area summer camps amid pandemic


RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Ken Hisler, assistant director of recreation for Raleigh, said the decision by the city to offer camp was an easy choice. How to do that and mitigate risk was the challenge.

The City of Raleigh made the decision to cancel all preschool specialty camps, teen specialty camps, and youth Specialty Camps. Select traditional summer camps for youth were also canceled. That totals out to more than 100 individual programs canceled.

Modifications were made for the remainder of summer camps still on.

Hisler said while there are usually groups of 24 children, this year that number was dropped to 12 with two staff members supervising. The number of campers per week was reduced from 1,400 to 600. That group of 12 children will stick together throughout camp rather than intermingling with other campers.

Campers are subject to wellness checks before they come in. Each child must have a mask. Masks can be removed when children are involved in activities where social distancing is possible. Hisler said if groups are using the same space, it must be sanitized before the next group of campers can use the space. Field trips campers would typically take were canceled.

“We’ve let our programmers be creative in how we utilize space (and) activities to be able to have a good time but keep everybody safe,” said Hisler.

Hisler said some of that creatively involved using pool noodles or hula hoops to play classic games like Tag.

The changes apply to staff as well. They, too, go through a wellness check and need to use a mask.

Hisler said before the start of camp, families had the opportunity for a one-on-one meeting to go over the rules and ask questions.

“In that, we would get parents who decided this was something that they wanted to do for their kids this summer. But I can’t tell the number of parents who thanked us for the opportunity. In many cases, we wanted to fill the need for all day, all week child care. There’s a lot of parents who needed that. They were going back into work. Teleworking wasn’t an option,” said Hisler.

With these changes, Hisler hopes children get used to some of the protocols they’ll need to follow if they return to in-person learning in the fall.

“We really do believe we can be helpful to parents to start to get used to some of these practices. What is the classroom setting going to look like? So, as we implement some of those same protocols into our summer camp programs, as the school systems are trying to make those decisions for what they’re going to do in August, we’re taking the directions straight out of the (state) handbook,” said Hisler.

Keeping camp fun at the YMCA

Summer at the YMCA looks a lot different from years past. Campers there are having to adjust to a new normal.

“Kids are resilient, and so I think we’re seeing that they’re actually doing really well with it,” said Shannon Steele at the Northwest Cary YMCA.

Her own children attend the YMCA summer camps.

Steele said cleanliness is a bigger deal than ever before. Bathrooms are cleaned every hour. Before entering the building, campers are screened and their temperatures are taken. The YMCA supplied masks for their campers. No one other than camp participants — even parents — are allowed inside the building.

Items used for activities are placed in hoops designated for clean and ready to use or not yet. This helps staff ensure every item touched by campers or staff is sanitized.

“Campers have really adapted so at the end of an activity, they bring the toys to the to be sanitized bin for us like they already know what to do,” said Steele.

Much like the city’s protocols, campers at the Y stick with their group and may sometimes pair with a second group. Those two, always kept at under 25 campers, never intermingle with groups other than each other. They have also cut their capacity.

Changes don’t mean camp isn’t fun. There are now social distancing and even sanitizing competitions.

Much like Raleigh’s camp program, habits picked up at the Y can help students learn to adjust to the potential upcoming school year.

“The campers really being able to lean into this gives us hope when the kids go back to school that they will be able to adjust,” said Steele.

Click here to learn more about safety precautions at YMCA summer camps.

While Raleigh summer camps are just getting started, the YMCA is several weeks into their season.

YMCAs across the country were designated emergency child care facilities for essential workers giving the Y an opportunity to practice procedures before the summer.

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