By Dasha Morgan- There is no doubt that WNC summer camps are having a difficult time dealing with this pandemic and their future.They are all undoubtedly having to deal with all the practicality of the situation, as well as the economics of it all.
How will they be able to be ready in time; how can they make ends meet? This past week at last some happy news arrived: Overnight camps, as well as day camps, will be allowed to open in NC. There will be a myriad of rules and restrictions to follow meticulously, but overnight camps will be allowed to open—but they must abide with these rules.
The governor and his health officials are greenlighting camp which are a big part of the area’s economy. NC Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said the state is leaving it to campground staff to decide if they will re-open during Phase Two.
“We are hoping that a number of camps will look at that guidance and still be able to proceed for the summer,” Cohen explains. “I know other camps have already made the decision not to open or made the decision to look at this guidance and decide either this is not the right thing for our camp in terms of what we provide or how we operate, so we know this is incredibly challenging.”
Much of this is undoubtedly due to the efforts of Senators Edwards, Jim Davis of Franklin, and Representatives Chuck Edwards of Hendersonville and Kevin Corbin of Franklin. Senator Edwards spoke to listeners on WHKP radio on March 14 telling how important it is to allow the camps to open with strict guidelines. Earlier in the week, Cooper had already signed a new executive order that allows childcare centers to reopen for working parents and for summer day camps to open in Phase 1. But what about the overnight camps? An open letter written by these government officials, along with the Board of Directors of the NC Youth Camp Association, stated:
“This time of year is often with unbridled anticipation for kids and parents alike as summer approaches. That anticipation has morphed into worry, uncertainty, and disappointment as families across the state are canceling plans because of the coronavirus pandemic, even though conditions here in North Carolina are steadily improving. Despite all this, we hope to maintain what is a summer tradition for many families: summer camp.
Every year, staff work to ensure summer camp and safety go hand in hand, and this year be no different. They will not compromise the health and safety of staff, campers, and families. Camps are committed to following the CDC, ACA, and State Health Department guidelines.
Summer camps aren’t like other close-quartered industries. There are safety precautions inherently involved with running a camp. Because of these precautions, it’s appropriate for them to open during the pandemic.
The average stay in a camp is two weeks, during that time campers can avoid contact with the larger community. Most living spaces at the camps – including cabins and dining halls – are open-air and activities are primarily outdoors. Camps already have medical staff and health centers on the grounds. These distinctions provide a peace of mind for worried families that are on the fence about attending camps.
Summers camps are ingrained in the lives of so many North Carolinians. Campers look forward to those weeks away from home with their friends for months. The camps not only build lasting relationships, but they also teach campers necessary life skills.
The camps also generate millions of dollars of revenue from Murphy to Manteo. For many camps, 90% of their annual revenue comes during the summer months.
As camp leaders and legislators, we believe a phased opening is the safest, most viable option for camps this summer. To open, camps will need a minimum allowance of 80% capacity, a June 22 start date, relaxed social distancing, access to swimming and lake activities, open-air assemblies, and sleeping accommodations with 6 feet between heads.
Camps primarily rely on national parks, state parks, and park vendors for many of their outdoor activities during the summer. A phased opening of parks that allows for camp use and licensed vendors is also necessary for a successful summer.
To effectively communicate plans with parents and staff, summer camps need plans to be in place by May 9.
School closures and social distancing have left many children confined at home. Many of those children have started counting down the days until they can attend summer camp in North Carolina. Because of the uncertainty and social distancing caused by this pandemic, we believe they will need the unrestricted and emotionally positive experience camp provides more than ever.
We urge Gov. Cooper to take immediate action and release guidelines that would allow camps to open this summer.”
These officials were heard. North Carolina is relaxing its rules for all camps—day and overnight. Of course, social distancing, continuous testing of all for the virus, and many other regulations must be followed. Although some camp directors have postponed registration, some have stated on their website they plan to close. To be up to date, one must check the latest information from the camp you wish to attend. Hopefully, the summer will be a bit brighter for many of NC’s youth (and perhaps a welcome change for some parents too with happier children).