Summer camps in Texas are trying to adjust for the coronavirus. And it’s not easy, since social distancing is the opposite of what many camps traditionally offer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released guidance for summer camps, such as keeping campers in small groups and performing regular cleaning.
Many camps have reinvented themselves with virtual experiences, like the Houston Zoo’s Camp Zoofari. At the YMCA of Greater Houston, however, summer day camps reopened June 1 for young children and teens.
Houston Public Media spoke with Houston YMCA’s CEO and President Stephen Ives about how the organization is trying to keep the kids safe. For parents looking for relief and activities for their kids, but who are hesitant about exposure to the coronavirus, Ives said it’s a personal decision.
“I think that each parent, each family needs to ask for themselves if they’d like to have an opportunity for the children to be outside the home and for them to be engaged with other children and with other adults. The Y is doing everything that could possibly be imagined to create the safest environment possible.”
Below are five takeaways about that environment.
- Fewer seats: This summer, the YMCA of Greater Houston opened up about 1,100 seats for its summer day camps, about a third or half of the capacity they typically have.
- Smaller groups: Children who attend the camp will be put in smaller activity groups to reduce risk of infection: “Still having fun and having exciting things to happen, but not running free and loose and carefree the way they would love to and we’d love for them to be able to. But it’s just going to be very different this summer,” Ives said.
- Health checks: Ives says that both campers and staff will have regular health checks, including a secure entrance and multiple temperature checks scheduled during the day. “It’s just an opportunity to continue to evaluate,” Ives said. “If a child came to the program and over the course of the day began to develop a fever, we’d rather catch that during the course of the day than wait till the next day so that we can limit any potential exposure.”
- Social distancing: Ives said that kids will need to follow social distancing, which the YMCA plans to create with structured activities and less free, open play. “When kids line up to go to the bathroom, there’s lines on the floor. When they’re moving from one space to another, there are lines on the floor indicating where we want them to stand. When there’s tables for programs and activities, there’s only so many chairs so that it’s one or two kids per table. So that kind of structure will be employed,” Ives said. He added that kids generally respond well to structure and many seem to understand the dynamics of the new normal under COVID-19.
- Virtual offerings: The YMCA of Greater Houston is also offering virtual classes, such as its popular water safety class. In fact, Ives said the Y never completely shut down during the pandemic. While its fitness centers closed, it provided emergency childcare for essential workers, distributed several million pounds of food and posted virtual classes that some 25,000 people have accessed online. “We aren’t a gym, we aren’t just a fitness center. Those are important parts of what we do and delightful experiences that many, many people have with us. But we’re a community strengthening organization that’s focused on strengthening community through youth development, healthy living and social responsibility,” Ives said.