Many local summer camps are still in limbo as to whether they will open this summer, leaving parents reeling as they scramble for options to keep their children occupied after months of isolating at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not yet issued guidelines for summer camps. While Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee's Executive Order 30 prohibits overnight camps through May 29, they may be allowed to operate as early as June.
To comply with the order, Boy Scouts of America Cherokee Area Council's Skymont Summer Camp canceled its first two weeks of camp and added two weeks in July, according to a letter sent on behalf of program director Mark Lytle to Scout units registered for camp this summer.
If government restrictions are not lifted by June 1, additional weeks of camp will likely be canceled as well, the letter said.
If camps do take place this summer, they will need to change the way they operate in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Most traditional camp activities bring people together, such as singing songs around the campfire, passing bowls of food around crowded tables in the mess hall or sleeping in the same cabin and sharing a bathroom with a dozen or more people.
"We are modifying our camp procedures to ensure that we are as safe as possible," the letter to Skymont campers said. "This may require units to have meals in campsites to maintain social distancing requirements, elimination of buffet set-ups, addition of hand sanitizing locations throughout camp and modified screening procedures during check-in."
Camp Ocoee is still on the fence as to whether camp will be held this summer, according to its website. If it does, additional safety protocols planned include having campers wash hands when entering and exiting cabins and at the beginning and end of all activities, alternating the directions campers sleep on bunk beds to avoid transmission and cleaning and sanitizing common areas three times per day.
Since the pandemic was declared about when people typically start making their summer plans, some parents have already registered and paid for camps that now may not happen.
Scouts registered for the canceled weeks at Skymont have the option to move their reservation to another week this summer, cancel and get a refund or move their reservation to next summer at this year's price and apply previous payments toward the cost.
The latter option allows some revenue to flow into camps, which have already invested in staff, programming and facilities. Many continue to hold off on cancellations in hopes that restrictions will be lifted.
Gov. Lee's order does not address day camps, but the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Health Department is not allowing day camps at this time, said Public Information Officer Tom Bodkin.
"COVID-19 is still very present in our community, and the health and safety of our children is a top priority," Bodkin said. "Social distancing, strict hygiene and the wearing of protective equipment is necessary but difficult to maintain in a day camp setting.
"Children in our community have already contracted this virus. This is a necessary action to protect their health and their lives."
The county health department has not set a date for that restriction to expire, which leaves the possibility open that day camps could still be allowed later this summer.
Baylor School canceled its overnight camps, but plans to hold its day camps on schedule beginning in June.
Going into March, a record number of campers had enrolled in many of the school's camps, said Barbara Kennedy, director of external affairs for Baylor. Although camp inquiries came to a virtual halt with the city and county shutdown due to COVID-19, she said Baylor has had eight new day camp registrations since April 28 and only one family has canceled.
"Parents who have called the summer camp office are hopeful camps will occur as long as it is safe because they want some normalcy for their children," Kennedy said.
Chattanooga resident Davis Rittenberry, parent of a 10-year-old daughter and a 15-year-old son, said his family's plans are still in limbo due to the unknowns surrounding the pandemic.
He and his wife Kelly planned to send their daughter to overnight camp but had to shelve that plan due to COVID-19. She instead plans to go to a horseback riding day camp that's held outdoors and allows for social distancing. Their son, who's not going to camp and not quite old enough to drive, is basically able to fend for himself, said Rittenberry, who feels lucky to have kids who are at least somewhat independent.
"It's a lot harder on people with younger kids, and there are a lot of people who are going to struggle," he said. "It's going to be a weird summer, that's for sure."
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