FAQ: The American Camp Association's Approach to COVID-19

I’m confused. Should I plan to run my camp this summer? Go virtual? Take a pause for a year? Where should I start?

The CDC has published a decision making tool to help guide camps in their decision making process. State and local health authority are responsible for establishing the parameters under which camps will be allowed to operate in-person this summer. We expect State and Local Boards of Health will provide rules and guidance on how day and overnight camps may be permitted to operate in the next few weeks. That will be a helpful jumping-off point for your decision-making process. While you wait, take the time to craft plans for programs of varying season lengths, investigate virtual camp models, assess your staff’s ability to handle a remote camp,, and take a close look at your current financial position and contingency plans.

 

Will the ACA take a position on how camps should handle summer operations?

No. Every camp is different and will ultimately assess their ability to operate camp this summer subject to each state’s/local county’s rules for camp in the COVID-19 environment. ACA is eager to help camp professionals with as many tools as possible to support your decision-making. We have hired the environmental health consulting firm Environmental Health & Engineering (EH&E) and have established a panel of independent experts to provide a practical, science-based Camp Operations Guidebook for the COVID-19 environment. The EH&E Camp Operations Guide is meant to provide educational resources to support camps in their decision making process.

 

What is the CDC’s role in this process?

The CDC is the leading federal public health agency charged with developing and applying disease prevention and control, environmental health, health promotion, and health education activities designed to improve the health of the people of the United States. During the pandemic, one of their responsibilities is to develop recommendations, or “Guidance,” for how companies and individuals can function safely. The CDC has published a decision making tool to help support camps in their decision making process this summer.

 

Who is Environmental Health & Engineering? What is their role in this process?

Environmental Health & Engineering (EH&E) is a national, third-party environmental health consulting firm hired by the ACA, in partnership with the YMCA of the USA, to evaluate and clarify the health standards a camp would have to adhere to operate this summer. The EH&E process includes consultation with an expert panel of public health specialists in pediatric medicine, camp medicine and nursing, epidemiology, infectious disease management, biological safety, industrial hygiene, organizational design, and other technical specialties. They have developed a Camp Operations Guidebook that serves as educational resources for day camp and overnight camp operations in the COVID-19 environment based on current knowledge of the virus and public/environmental health science.

 

Is the EH&E Camp Operations Guidebook effectively ACA “guidance?”

No, it is not. The American Camp Association is not a health quality association, so we cannot take a position or offer our own specific guidance on operating camp this summer, but EH&E and their panel of independent experts have developed recommended practices and considerations to assist you in your decision-making. This Camp Operations Guidebook is also being shared with the CDC, State Boards of Health and county health departments across the country. Ultimately, every camp must make its own decisions about how it will operate. But the EH&E assessment will give you high-quality, science-based input that is crafted specifically for camps.

 

When can I see the EH&E Guidebook?

The Camp Operations Guide can be found on the COVID-19 resource page on our website.

 

If the ACA is a neutral source that does not give guidance, what is your role?

The American Camp Association is focused on delivering every resource that can help you make your operating decisions. There are already webinars and planning aids. We’ll continually add new resources in our COVID-19 — Resource Center for Camps, including a mid-May Town Hall with EH&E and ACA leadership to walk through the Camp Operating Guidebook. We are also:

  • Proactively promoting camp experiences for all children, teens, and adults through our ongoing PR efforts.
  • Actively advocating for more resources for camps at the federal and state levels.

 

Honestly, I’m scared. My livelihood and the survival of my camp is at stake. Can I survive this crisis?

You can do this! You are not alone; we are here to help. Start by building your Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C. Consult your peers, listen to ACA webinars, apply for an SBA loan and, when available, evaluate state and local guidance along with the resources in the EH&E Camp Operations Guidebook. Click here to start. Lastly, if you would like to talk through things, join a virtual ACA online meetup.

 

I hear that some states have already made their decisions for how they will approach camp this summer. Is it safe to assume another state’s guidance will largely be true for my state?

No. Just as the virus is being handled differently in different states, expect to see varying state and local approaches to 2020 camp operations depending on a myriad of factors. It will likely be a patchwork environment with state and local regulations at the core. That means each camp ultimately needs to make its own choices about camp this year. First, you’ll need to consider national, state, and local guidance recommendations. Then, you can assess your ability to meet their collective standards using the Camp Operations Guidebook as a resource.

 

I know how to run a camp. That doesn’t qualify me to run a virtual learning program. How can I make an educated choice about pursuing this avenue for the first time, under such pressure?

We understand. The pandemic is forcing many of us into uncharted territory. Virtual camp might not be right for you, but why not spend an hour or so considering it? Here are some resources to offer an initial landscape for your consideration. With these resources in mind, take the next step and connect with the camp community to dive deeper.

 

My biggest concern is that the situation is constantly evolving. How will I know I’m making the right decisions in this environment?

It’s true that COVID-19 has led to a constantly shifting environment, and that good things (vaccine development) and bad things (new outbreaks) are all possible. ACA promises to keep adapting with you, offering responsive, insightful, and timely resources that reflect emerging trends. You are our top priority, and we’re passionately committed to serving you, and by extension, millions of children, through camp.