CDC: Children’s summer camps should continue social distancing, mask-wearing to prevent COVID-19 spread

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said social distancing and mask-wearing need to continue at children's summer camps to prevent a COVID-19 outbreak.

The agency updated its guidance on Saturday for day and overnight camps.

"The present guidance is intended to help camp administrators operate camps while preventing the spread of COVID-19 and protecting campers, their families, staff, and communities," the agency said on its website.

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Health officials said day campers should be placed within groups and required to stay at least three feet away from other members within their groups and six feet apart when eating and drinking. Campers should also remain six feet apart from other groups and staff members.

Children and adults should wear masks except during activities when they can get wet such as swimming. Masks should be disposable or made from cloth with two or more layers of fabric. They should also be stored properly and washed regularly. Staff and campers are urged to have multiple masks.

Hand-washing and sanitizing surfaces also need to continue.

Sports and athletic activities should take place outdoors when possible, and campers should avoid close-contact or indoor sports. Any indoor activities should take place in a well-ventilated area. Staffers should also limit certain activities where transmission is easily possible such as singing, chanting, shouting, or playing an instrument outside. Campers should also not take trips outside the campgrounds where it’s possible they can mix with the general public.

The CDC also advised organizations to have an Emergency Operations Plan, or EOP,  when operating camps that outlines safety measures including health screenings, cleaning, personal protective equipment (PPE) and policies in place for when a staffer or camper becomes sick. The agency also advised organizers to be aware of the number of COVID-19 cases in the surrounding county and state.

Camp leaders should also have a designated medical provider to respond to all COVID-19 concerns. 

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Camps should also reinforce safety protocols through announcements and signage posted around their sites.

For overnight camps, families and volunteers should either get vaccinated, tested for the coronavirus or quarantine themselves for two weeks before arriving at the campground. After camp, participants should get tested and quarantine themselves for seven days if they have not been vaccinated. 

More summer camps are expected to reopen this year compared to 2020.

Last year, during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, many summer camps were closed, delayed or opened with restrictions. The American Camp Association estimated 19.5 million children in the United States missed out on summer camps because of the pandemic.

The CDC said fewer children have gotten sick compared to adults during the pandemic. However, health officials said children can still spread the virus even if they’re asymptomatic or have mild symptoms.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, more than 3.71 million children in the U.S. have tested positive for the coronavirus since the start of the pandemic in March 2020. According to John Hopkins, more than 32 million Americans have tested positive since the pandemic started, and more than 572,000 Americans have died.

The CDC said more than 96 million Americans have been fully vaccinated, representing 28.9% of the total U.S. population.

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Pharmaceutical companies are now testing the COVID-19 vaccine in children.

Pfizer announced last month that its COVID-19 vaccine is safe and strongly protective in kids as young as 12. Kids had side effects similar to young adults, the company said. The main side effects are pain, fever, chills and fatigue, particularly after the second dose. The study will continue to track participants for two years for more information about long-term protection and safety.

Results also are expected by the middle of this year from a U.S. study of Moderna’s vaccine in 12- to 17-year-olds. In February, AstraZeneca began a study of its vaccine among 6- to 17-year-olds in Britain. Johnson & Johnson is planning its own pediatric studies.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.