Enrollment is up at summer camps, which are planning for a second pandemic summer
May 17, 2021 at 7:00 AM
After a year spent behind computer screens and distanced from their friends in school, children are getting ready for outdoor summer activities.
Lehigh Valley summer camps are getting ready, too.
With one pandemic summer already under their belts, camp administrators around the Lehigh Valley are feeling more confident about the COVID modifications they’re making to their programming.
Parents seem to feel the same way, with enrollment numbers at an all-time high in some places.
On April 24, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued updated guidance for summer camps. The guidance urged masking and 3 feet of distancing between campers in the same group and 6 feet between those in different groups, as well as between staff, and while eating and drinking. It also encouraged as many outdoor activities as possible.
A study that analyzed data from 486 camps in 2020 found the overall risk of COVID transmission in camps was low, according to the American Camp Association. Camper and staff mask and distancing policies reduced risk, with greater reductions if campers constantly kept their faces covered, according to the Association’s website.
Camps run by the Greater Valley YMCA will look similar to last year, President/CEO David Fagerstrom said. Campers will have to get their temperature checked and move through camp in pods, rather than meeting as a large group. They also won’t go on field trips because of how hard it would be to socially distance on a bus, he said.
“The difference this year from last year is there are more people ready to get their kids back into summer day camp, and more kids ready for it, and you’ve got more of our staff team that have vaccinations,” Fagerstrom said.
He said camp enrollment last year was about 50% of normal. This year he expects enrollment to be 75%-85% of 2019′s numbers. At the Easton branch, the summer camp program is already at its 2019 enrollment numbers. About 50% of those families are new to the YMCA camp, Fagerstrom said.
He said parents who want to enroll their children in camp should act now because, unlike last summer, spots are filling up and there might not be room if they wait until the last minute.
He suspects some of the influx might be because of other child care providers closing, and because of other organizations that might typically include a camp component deciding to skip it this year.
Eric Lightman, executive director of the Jewish Community Center of the Lehigh Valley, suspects enrollment is up thanks to a number of factors, including that parents need to get children out of the house after them being cooped up all year.
The JCC camp has doubled its enrollment from last summer and is up 40% from the summer before that, Lightman said. He said that could be not just because of the pandemic, but also that the camp moved from Upper Saucon Township to Allentown and substantially reduced its price because of the move.
This year’s JCC campers will find the experience closer to normal than last year. In 2020, the camp didn’t have activities specialists, like a sports director or arts and crafts person, because they didn’t want adults mixing with different groups of children. But this year those positions have returned, along with field trips (though not anywhere crowded) and instructional swim lessons.
“We know the risks, especially if you’re outdoors and vaccinated and masked, are minimal,” Lightman said.
He said the JCC takes the CDC guidelines seriously, but also recognizes that keeping 3 feet of space between active children at all times isn’t necessarily realistic.
“When they’re in activities, they’re socializing, they’re playing, the goal is to do the best we can but recognizing it’s unfortunately impossible to adhere to some of these things 100% all the time,” he said.
It’s something they try to mitigate with masking and being outdoors as much as possible.
The Lehigh Valley Zoo’s summer programming is also filling up, with slots for 6- to 8-year-olds already maxed out, said Cher Vatalaro, the director of conservation and education.
The zoo plans to run the camp similar to last year, with masks, temperature checks and distancing, she said.
“[Last year] was a crash course for the staff,” she said, “It went pretty well, and I think this year will just even be better.”
Morning Call reporter Michelle Merlin can be reached at 610-820-6533 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.