With summer just around the corner, many park and recreation agencies are grappling with how to approach summer youth programs this year. While this is an agency by agency decision and should be made in collaboration with local health officials to ensure state and local guidelines are followed, there is guidance to help make an informed choice.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released guidelines designed to help agencies plan for, prepare, and respond to COVID-19 related situations and concerns when determining the next steps for summer youth programming – including camps, day programs and youth sports. CDC guidance provides four key points that agencies should consider when planning for summer programming:
- Promote behavior to reduce spread
- Maintain healthy environments
- Maintain healthy operations
- Prepare for when someone gets sick
Let’s take a closer look at each point.
Promote behavior to reduce spread
In order to promote behavior that helps reduce the spread of COVD-19, agency leaders should educate staff, campers and families on the symptoms of coronavirus and when it’s necessary to stay home. Campers and staff should stay home if they are sick for any reason, or if they’ve had close contact with someone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19. Agency leaders should also share clear guidelines on when it’s ok to return to work or camp – typically after a 14-day isolation period – but more specific guidance can be found through your local health department.
Leaders should also reinforce healthy hygiene practices, including frequent handwashing for at least 20 seconds, practicing physical distancing when possible, and encouraging the use of cloth face coverings. However, there are challenges that come with wearing face coverings all day. Children under 2 years old should NEVER wear a face covering, as well as those who have difficulty breathing or cannot remove a face covering on their own. Additional challenges include children that cannot leave their face coverings alone and frequently touch their face, glasses are fogging up and the child cannot safely participate, or if masks are causing children to overheat. In these instances, the face coverings should be removed.
Maintain healthy environments
As agencies start to welcome back community members for summer programs, it’s key to provide a healthy, safe environment for programming to take place. Agencies should prepare by having adequate supplies onboard to promote healthy hygiene, including soap, paper towels, tissues, no-touch trash cans and hand sanitizer. Posting signage on proper hygiene techniques and ways to stop the spread of COIVD-19 is also encouraged.
A crucial way to keep environments safe and healthy is by cleaning and disinfecting high-touch items and surfaces frequently. Agency staff should follow a schedule to ensure proper procedures are followed and should prioritize items like doorknobs, light switches, playground equipment and drinking fountains. When discussing procedures with staff, be clear on what each term means:
- Cleaning means using soap and water to remove debris (this should be done first)
- Sanitizer reduces germs on surfaces to levels considered safe
- Disinfectant destroys germs on surfaces using Environmental Protection Agency-approved solutions (but should not be used on objects that can be placed in mouths)
For items that are typically shared (art supplies, games, toys, sports equipment) and can’t be easily cleaned (stuffed animals, soft surfaces), agency staff should consider removing them as an option entirely.
It may also be necessary to modify the layout of the camp, including spacing out seating during mealtimes, having campers lie head to toe during nap or sleep time, identifying clear distance practices using physical barriers, and creating one-way paths in hallways.
Maintain healthy operations
To continue maintaining healthy operations, agencies should consider the different populations they serve, and make accommodations to keep everyone safe. This may include offering virtual programs for campers who are high-risk. For staff who are considered high-risk, agencies should offer modified job responsibilities or telework options, if possible.
For in-person programs, agencies should consider keeping campers in small groups called “cohorts”. Using cohorts is a method designed to keep the same small groups each day throughout the program and limits exposure to the other cohorts. Group sizes should be determined using your state’s guidance.
Other possibilities include staggering arrival and departure times, limiting group events and meetings, eliminating field trips, and discouraging non-essential visitors.
Agencies may also be encouraged by local health officials to implement daily health checks, including temperature screenings.
Prepare for when someone gets sick
Program participants, families, and staff should be strongly encouraged to stay home if they are sick or have been exposed to someone that has tested positive for coronavirus. In the event someone does become symptomatic during the program, is exposed to a suspected or confirmed COVID-19 case, or tests positive themselves, agency leaders and local health officials should be notified as soon as possible. Agencies should also consider establishing a quarantine area for anyone exhibiting symptoms and immediately separate them from the group. Agencies should have established procedures to safely transport an ill camper or staff member to the hospital or their home, depending on guidance from local health officials.
Park and recreation agencies should consider the spectrum of risk when determining when and how to introduce summer programs and youth sports. Levels of risk are as follows:
- Low-risk: small groups of campers or athletes who stay together for the whole program, stay 6 feet apart from each other, don’t share toys and equipment, try to be outside a majority of the time, and are all from the same local area, as different localities may have different regulations
- Mid-risk: mixed groups of kids (not the same cohort each day), but remain 6 feet apart from each other and don’t share objects, prioritize outside time, and are from the same local area
- High-risk: mixed groups of kids who don’t remain physically distanced, but are all from the same local area
- Highest risk: mixed groups of kids not distancing from each other, and are all from different geographic areas
Special Considerations for Overnight Camps
Sleepaway camps may need to take special considerations when planning for summer camp. These include:
- Limit camp attendance to staff and campers that live in the local geographic area
- Line mats or beds head-to-toe and at least 6 feet apart during nap and bedtime
- Add physical barriers in between bathroom sinks and beds, especially if physical distancing is not possible
- Monitor and enforce physical distancing and healthy hygiene behaviors during both day and night
- Clean and disinfect bathrooms regularly
- Encourage staff and campers to avoid placing toiletries directly on surfaces
At the end of the day, each community is unique and will have programs that are tailored to meet the specific needs of community members. Local health officials and state and local guidelines should always be considered during the decision-making process.
For more information about NRPA’s response to COVID-19, as well as available resources for park and recreation professionals — including guidance regarding youth programs — please see our Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) webpage.