March 2021

COVID-19 vaccines to help Ohio summer camps aim for normal — or something close

Courtesy of The Columbus Dispatch
By Dean Narciso
March 8, 2021

Amid declining COVID-19 cases, the onset of warmer weather and widespread vaccines, there is hope of a full — or at least partial — return to a traditional summer.

And that’s welcome news for many of Ohio’s more than 300 accredited day and overnight camps and those who attend them.

Staff working closely with children have begin receiving COVID-19 shots

Last week, those who work closely with kids were able to begin receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. That should please campers and their parents already facing the more common worries of bee stings, poison ivy and sunburn.

“Staff who have regular, ongoing direct contact with children at summer camps enrolled in Ohio’s Professional Registry are eligible,” said Alicia Shoults, spokeswoman for the Ohio Department of Health.

That doesn’t include administrators, office staff and others who are not regularly working with children, but it’s a big help.

“We’re excited that our summer camp staff who will be working with the kids on a daily basis will be eligible to receive the vaccine based on current guidance,” said Kerry Francis, spokeswoman for the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department.

The city plans to hire 150 seasonal workers to support more than 125 recreation center staff. In a typical year, some 50 Columbus parks camps host about 21,000 campers. That dropped dramatically last year.

“We are hoping to be closer to full capacity than we were last year,” Francis said.

Enrollment open for dozens of Columbus camps, many closed last summer

In Columbus, enrollment currently is open for dozens of camps, each with a different focus, such as arts, fitness and sports and located in both community centers and rural parkland. Many of these were forced to close or cut back operations a year ago.

“More than ever, kids just need a fun, safe place this summer,” she said.

The American Camp Association doesn’t expect precautions to stop with just vaccines.

“It is important that even as camp staff do line up for their vaccination we still follow the rules and guidelines that our local health departments recommend, including wearing masks and social distancing,” said Dan Reynolds, chairman of the ACA Ohio chapter.

That’s especially true given the new strains of the coronavirus, such as the United Kingdom and South African variants that continue to raise concerns about a full rebound.

Central Ohio has dozens of camps planning for a return this year.

The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium, Metro Parks, Thurber House and several colleges, schools and communities all are offering spring and summer camp activities and programs this year. Ohio State University “hasn’t yet made a decision about summer camps,” said spokesman Ben Johnson.

Cost to attend camps is another focus this year, given the economic downturn and unemployment faced by many families.

“If (camps) are not at a reduced rate or free, that’s not helpful to families unable to keep a roof over their heads,” said Stephanie Hightower, president and CEO of the Columbus Urban League. “The intentions are good. but you have to make sure there aren’t too many barriers and that they have a support system to get them there.”

Making summer camp safer amid COVID-19 pandemic

An hour north of Columbus In Richland County, Hidden Hollow Camp is trying to do just that.

The camp serves low-income or at-risk kids, and scholarship assistance is available. The programs run for five weeks for ages 8 to 14. Nearby sister camp, Happy Hollow, offers day camps.

The camps were closed last year due to the pandemic, and this year, about 125 kids per week will take part — about half capacity, said Terry Conard, executive director of operations.

The open feel of camp will be different, he said, with no comingling between cabins of 10 campers and two counselors. And visits to common areas and dining rooms will be restricted to smaller groups.

Boys sing and dance as they return to the main cabin from their camping areas for dinner at Happy Hollow Camp in Bellville in 2019. The camp closed last summer due to the pandemic, but is reopening this year.

“I think my message is that this is not normal. Your experience next year won’t be like this summer,” Conard said. “I think it’s going to be tough for a lot of the kids.”

But, he said, it might be more important than ever.

“I think, overall, kids need camp,” said Conard. “With so many kids being home and not having the social life, they need this. Some of the kids that we are serving don’t go on vacation. This is their opportunity to ride a horse or go fishing.”

Camp Wyandot, a perennial overnight favorite in the Hocking Hills, and Camp Otonwe, a day camp east of Hoover Reservoir in Delaware County, are maintaining the same safety guidelines as last year, including masks and distancing. Officials there are “confident in our ability to provide a fun and safe experience for our campers,” according to their website.

In Morrow County, hundreds of kids typically flock to Flying Horse Farms, which is free for children with serious illnesses and their parents. Last year it was forced to suspend its spring and summer programming, but the camp’s leadership has stated online their goal bringing everyone back to camp and return to a regular schedule.

“But we need to keep everyone safe, and prevent the spread of any and all infections,” it said in a website message.

Those camps that closed last year continue to face financial uncertainty as well as an emotional toll.

In the case of Conard’s camp, there were enough cash reserves to carry it through another season with the hope that the virus will soon be just a memory.

“I have always planned on a rainy day, but never anything like this,” Conard said of his camp’s closure last year. “Had this been two years in a row, we would have really been struggling.”

Those looking for camps in Ohio or anywhere else in the country can go to:

Print Friendly, PDF & Email