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Fewer will attend camp this summer; some camps won’t survive

Registration for Roanoke’s “Summer Play Enrichment Program” started on Monday.
Registration for Roanoke’s “Summer Play Enrichment Program” started on Monday. (Pexels)

AP – Camp Winnebago was founded during the Spanish Flu and weathered all manner of health scares from polio to the swine flu over a century. It wasn’t about to let the coronavirus stop the fun.

But things will be different this summer at this camp and others that buck the trend and welcome children. The vast majority of overnight camps are closed due to the pandemic.

Campers were tested five days before arriving and will be tested again five days later. The camp installed additional hand-washing stations on the 150-acre (60-hectare) property. Each cabin has hand sanitizer that must be used when entering and leaving, and before and after group activities. Face coverings are required in larger groups.

“We believe that we can run a program safely and with the health of the campers at the top of our minds. We’re not doing this cavalierly. We’re taking this extremely seriously,” Camp Winnebago owner Andy Lilienthal said.

Nationwide, the summer camp picture is coming into sharper focus with many of the 15,000-plus summer camps opting to close because of health concerns surrounding the pandemic, or because of delays in receiving rules or guidelines from licensing officials.

New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Oregon have banned overnight camps, and more than 20 states still haven’t issued guidance for overnight camp directors during what would normally be the start of the busy summer season, according to the American Camp Association.

All told, an estimated 19.5 million youths will miss out on either day camp or overnight camp this summer, said Tom Rosenberg, from the American Camp Association.

It’s not just a loss for kids who will miss out on seeing friends, becoming independent, and developing outdoor skills. It’s a devastating financial loss for camps, some of which won’t recover. Camps are estimated to lose $16 billion in revenue, with more than $4.4 billion in lost wages and over 900,000 lost jobs this summer, Rosenberg said.

Even camps that do jump through the hoops to open are going to have a tough time. Most of them are losing money but believe strongly in the importance of the camp experience, said Ron Hall, from the Maine Summer Camps.

Camps that consider opening are confronting a hodgepodge of safety rules, some of which were late in coming from states. There is also guidance from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the American Camp Association.