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Staff photo by C.B. Schmelter / Ten-year-old Jenna Weaver weaves a bowl during the Arts Experiences Every Day Summer Camp at the Creative Discovery Museum on Tuesday. The museum is operating scaled-back versions of its summer camps amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

CORRECTION: This story was updated at 12:30 p.m. on Friday, July 10, to state the number of camps being offered by Creative Discovery Museum is seven and not six as previously reported.

Many Chattanooga area day camps are now in operation, with the majority that chose to open amid the COVID-19 pandemic starting their programs in late June or early July.

Rather than shut down for the season, those camps that opened opted to scale back their operations, such as decreasing the number of available slots and eliminating activities and canceling programs that make social distancing difficult, in order to prevent spread of the virus.

Kyrstin Hill, Creative Discovery Museum marketing and communications manager, said the museum typically holds at least 10 camps per summer, but has reduced its offerings to seven camps this year.

Some camps were canceled due to their timing at the beginning of the summer while the museum was still closed. Programs for which creating physical distance among participants would be more difficult — such as cooking camps, and one session of its inclusive camp for school-aged children with disabilities and their mainstream peers — also were eliminated.

Spots are still available in four of the six remaining camps scheduled for this summer, which would be unusual for a typical summer, Hill said. The inclusive camps have always sold out in previous years, and the other programs have usually filled up as well, she said.

The capacity of the camps offered was reduced by half to bring the number of campers in each down to 10, she said.

"We're very happy with the turnout, and we're happy that families are able to come send their kids to camp with us," Hill said.

Most camps focused on close-contact sports such as soccer and basketball have been canceled by local program directors, and programs that are happening may look a bit different.

For example, kids are often kept in smaller groups that stay together throughout the day, with less time spent intermingling in common areas. Pickup and dropoff protocols have been changed, now occurring outside camp facilities in order to reduce unnecessary exposure to the virus from parents, with times staggered to encourage social distancing.

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Chattanooga day camps amid COVID-19

Since Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee's Economic Recovery Group waited to announce its summer day camp guidelines until May 28, after many programs were originally scheduled to begin, camps that decided to open this summer were forced to push back their start dates or reschedule their earliest sessions later in the summer.

Among them is McCallie School's summer program, which canceled or rescheduled camps originally scheduled for dates before its delayed start date of June 22.

In addition to following guidelines set forth by local, state and national health authorities and camping organizations to prevent spread of the virus, McCallie also asks campers to self-quarantine for seven days before attending camp, recording their temperatures each of those days on a waiver form that all campers must submit. Anyone with a fever or COVID-19 contact history is told to stay home.

"We've been very deliberate about it," said Bill Steverson, communications officer for McCallie School, on the school's decision to hold camps this summer. "It's gone extremely smoothly."

For other camps, including the Cumberland Youth Foundation's Dayplayers Summer Camp, the uncertainty of whether they would be allowed to open this summer led leadership to move ahead with canceling the 2020 season regardless of what health authorities decided.

Camp Director Bess Williams said she decided to cancel Dayplayers shortly after the Hamilton County Health Department's announcement in early May that it would not allow day camps to operate until further notice. Other camp leaders were left in limbo as to whether programs would be allowed to operate until late May.

"We would have already had to order supplies and have a full staff trained and ready for our usual Tuesday-after-Memorial Day camp start date," Williams said. "There simply wasn't a way to know that we would have been able to open safely and what our capacity would have been able to be. Once we got word that we could open, we had already decided to cancel and had refunded camp tuition to families so they could make other arrangements with as much time to spare as possible."

READ MORE: Will Chattanooga area summer camps open as COVID-19 restrictions ease?

Contact Emily Crisman at ecrisman@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6508.

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