Last year, summer camps were forced to close as the coronavirus spread across the United States. Now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has unveiled new guidance that will allow them to open for in-person activities, provided they follow specific safety measures.
Those suggested measures include COVID-19 testing and health screening, masks, physical distancing, residential housing arrangements for overnight camps, and vaccination for all eligible campers and staff members.
While the CDC acknowledges that fewer children have gotten sick with COVID-19 compared to adults during the pandemic, the agency explained that children can still be infected and get sick with COVID and spread the virus to others. CDC officials note that children are more likely to be asymptomatic or to have mild, non-specific symptoms, but are less likely than adults to have severe illness or die.
However, the guidance also notes that camps play a signiifcant role in children's social, emotional and physical development and can "prevent summer learning loss." Health officials emphasized in the guidance that camp administrators should tailor the safety meausres to meet their community's unique needs and circumstances.
"This CDC guidance is meant to supplement—not replace—any state, local, territorial, or tribal health and safety laws, rules, and regulations with which camps must comply," the agency states.
The CDC recommends that all individuals at camp facilities above the age of 2 years old wear well-fitting masks at all times, with exceptions for activities including eating, drinking and swimming. Camps should use disposable or cloth masks with two or more layers of fabric which are stored properly and washed regularly. Staff and campers are encouraged to have multiple masks on hand to replace masks that get wet or dirty.
The guidance also suggests campers and staff members should be grouped in cohorts, and that campers must remain three feet apart from others in their cohort. Meanwhile, campers who are eating and drinking or interacting with individuals outside their cohort should remain six feet apart.
In addition, the CDC recommends most activities should take place outdoors, including singing, shouting and playing an instrument. Activities in indoor spaces should be conducted in areas with proper ventilation and camp staff should have cleaning and disinfecting practices in place to mitigate potential spread. The guidance discourages close-contact and indoor sports, citing increased risk of COVID-19 spread. Staff members should also teach and reinforce hygiene practices such as frequent hand-washing and limiting sharing of objects.
Group events, gatherings, or meetings where distancing cannot be maintained should be avoided whenever possible and nonessential visitors, volunteers activities involving external groups or organizations should be limited as much as possible. Campers can take trips outside of camp, such as hiking trips or visits to a beach or lake, as long as there is no mixing or interaction with the general public outside of the camp.
Other important information outlined in detail in the guidance includes travel recommendations for campers before and after their arrival, signage, what to do if a staff member or camper gets sick, isolation, testing, contact tracing and screening protocols, announcements for campers, and family outreach.
Staff, volunteers, campers, and family members should get fully vaccinated for COVID-19 if possible, and ideally wait 2 weeks after completing vaccination before traveling to camp.
Meanwhile, unvaccinated campers and staff members should engage in a 2-week prearrival quarantine and should provide proof of a negative viral test taken no more than 1–3 days before arriving at camp.
Camp staff and campers who are not fully vaccinated should get tested with a viral test 3–5 days after traveling home from camp and stay home and self-quarantine for a full 7 days after travel.
Fox News medical contributor Dr. Nicole Saphier slammed the new guidance, arguing the agency "continues to push children aside and not prioritize their well being with their antiquated recommendations."
"The CDC recommendations for summer camps not only lack scientific backing but go against reliable data," Saphier said. "The CDC has consistently been 3 months behind the data with their recommendations and our children are suffering because of it. Outdoor transmission is negligible, especially among young children. Children wearing masks outside is futile and does little except hinder their development and make good optics for the mask mandate supporters."
Saphier argued that wearing masks outdoors and among those who are vaccinated is simply "political theater" that just creates more skepticism and rebellion.
"The CDC is the only entity across the globe that recommends young children over 2 years old wear masks at all times," Saphier added. "This isn’t based on science. In fact, it goes against the science that shows children are less likely to transmit and be infected with the virus."
She noted that mask-wearing going forward must be tailored to "maximize impact", and should be used primarily in instances where unvaccinated invididuals congregate in tight, indoor spaces.
"Mask mandates outside of those particular settings are futile and the delay in Biden and the CDC to make the change is anti-science and anti-public health," Saphier said.
President Biden is expected to announce updated guidance on mask wearing outdoors later this week ahead of his first joint session to Congress.
The debate over mask-wearing continues as over 230 million COVID-19 vaccines have been administered to date, with 42.5% of the total U.S. population receiving at least one dose and 28.9% who are fully vaccinated.
None of the three COVID-19 vaccines available in the U.S. have been authorized for use in children under the age of 16.