We understand that families want to know how North Country Camps plans to handle Covid-19 for the 2021 season. Our Covid Planning Group, consisting of our directors, certain board members and medical professionals, has started a detailed planning process. We are following guidelines from the New York State Department of Health (NYSDOH), the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the American Camping Association (ACA). We have consulted with camps that ran successfully in the 2020 summer season and we’re assessing school system protocols as well. We are feeling very optimistic for the 2021 summer and confident that we’ll be running camp. We’re fortunate that based on our size, location and the manner in which we normally operate, NCC is very well positioned to offer a phenomenal summer experience without having to make dramatic changes in its program.
Our goal for the 2021 season is to create a safe, fun program that stays true to our child-centered philosophy. We will continue to prioritize the social, emotional and physical health of our campers and staff. Exactly what camp will look like will be heavily dependent on the COVID situation at that time, but we will remain grounded in the values that are intrinsic to NCC: the importance of outdoor play in a technology-free environment where children can learn to negotiate with their peers while developing autonomy and honing their sense of adventure. It would be premature to say exactly which measures we’ll be implementing, but here’s a look at the kind of options we’re assessing.
Update February 19, 2021
The following letter was sent to NCC families 2/19/21:
Dear Camp Families,
We are counting the days until we can be together at Augur Lake this summer with your children. Our Mini Camp Reunions over the last 3 weeks, filled with smiling faces and fun memories of camp, reinforce how important it is for North Country Camps to be open this summer. The Covid-19 Planning Group has been working with experts to make sure that we can protect the physical health of our campers and staff while providing them with a much needed outdoor summer experience to refresh their mental, physical and emotional health.
Governor Cuomo apparently agrees! He announced yesterday that overnight camps in NY should plan on being able to open in 2021, which puts us one step closer! We recognize that families are eager to know what protocols we’ll have in place and what camp will look like.
There is no question that camp will be required to operate differently than in 2019. We are adjusting the ways that campers will be organized, making modifications to some activities to create safer distancing and are exploring how we can safely use indoor facilities like our dining hall. Like many of you, we wish we had concrete answers to our many questions, but without clear guidance from the state yet, and because the Covid situation could change significantly between now and June, we remain in flux. What will not change is the level of care that our staff will provide and the fun and excitement that your children should feel when at camp.
North Country Camps teaches skills that build resilience and we believe that campers will be able to adjust fairly easily to our 2021 camp model. That said, everyone should come to camp understanding that some of the same restrictions we live with currently outside of camp, will be in place at Lincoln and Whippoorwill this camp season. As we get closer to the summer and things become more clear, we will send families information to share with their campers, to help facilitate a smooth transition.
This month, we’d like to provide some of the source material we have been using to guide our planning. One source missing at this point, is guidance from the New York Dept. of Health, which will ultimately set the rules within which we must operate. There is a mountain of material out there to sift through, but these sources have been the most helpful for us and for many other camps. You’ll also see a summary of topics we’ve been exploring, within the source material and what some of our current thoughts are.
Doug and Jen
Our Covid 19 planning group has been meeting regularly and gets input from the directors and other key NCC staff, including the camp nurses.
We have also received excellent advice and consultation from NCCF board member, Rachel Willner Thompson,MD, who not only brought her own expertise, but her connections with other medical professionals involved in the reopening process of schools. Rachel was a Whippoorwill camper from 1986-1990, and returned as a staff member for several years, beginning in 1994. She has two children who are enthusiastic campers at NCC. Rachel is a pediatric emergency medicine physician and assistant professor of pediatrics at Boston Medical Center and Boston University School of Medicine. B.A. Harvard University, M.D. Yale University School of Medicine.
The American Camping Association’s Field Guide for Camps on Implementation of CDC Guidelines. This document draws on the CDC’s guidance, as well as many experts in public health and camping, and serves as a toolkit for camps in relation to risk-reduction and best practices.
The widely and openly shared experiences of camps in Maine, who did run in 2020, many of whom were similar camps to NCC. We’ve learned directly from these camps, as well as from the CDC’s report on the experiences of 4 specific camps. These camps were able to implement a multilayered prevention strategy that successfully curbed the spread of Covid 19 and led to a successful summer.
Educational resources, webinars, conferences, etc. provided by the American Camping Association, including sessions with the medical and public health professionals and research scientists responsible for the ACA Field Guide.
Summary of Covid Planning Discussions in February
Important Note: The information below is not established policy at this point, but we believe it is useful for you to see what we’re discussing. Final policies will be communicated to you, clearly, before the summer.
1. Testing: We are getting closer to a solid plan for how testing will be used at camp this summer. We’ve established a relationship with the Adirondack Medical Center, in Saranac Lake who will help us with materials and results from PCR tests, which we plan to conduct at camp. We will likely also use rapid Covid tests in certain situations. We will be requiring campers to arrive at camp with a negative PCR result taken a predetermined number of days before the start of camp.
2. Transportation: Thank you to all who participated in the camp transportation survey. It is looking increasingly likely that we will not be offering a bus trip to camp in June. Families who are unsure of their ability to transport their child directly to camp, should contact the directors.
• State regulations about quarantines: It is important for families who live in non-contiguous states to be aware of the current rules about quarantining upon entry in NY. We hope that these regulations will be relaxed by June, but they could represent a major challenge for families who would be traveling long-distance (especially by air). We recommend that families not purchase plane tickets at this point, unless they are refundable/able to be altered.
3. Cohorting and Activities: One of the key components of the ACA Field Guide, and the plans implemented by camps in 2020, is cohorting of campers and staff, at least in the early part of the summer. Keeping campers in consistent groups with limited mixing between groups in the camp program will help keep communicable disease from spreading.
• Morning Instructional Program: Cabin groups will travel as a cohort to a variety of morning activities throughout the week. We plan on offering the full range of regular activities that will be instructional and skill-based. We anticipate offering more activities to accommodate the varied interests of the campers in each cabin. Rather than having 2 activities per week they may have 4 or more. We hope that as the summer progresses, we will be able to expand our cohorts and increase the level of individual choice in our activity program.
• Afternoon Activities: Cabin groups will have a greater range of choice. Working closely with their counselor and Program Director cabin groups will be able to create their own activity or choose from our standard offerings. They may even choose to go on a day trip or do outdoor cooking with the pizza oven.
4. Dining Hall: Similar to the activity program, we anticipate cabin groups eating together for all meals and are considering a tiered meal schedule to reduce capacity in our dining halls.
Transportation, Added January 2021
Historically, NCC has provided group bus transportation at the beginning and close of camp. However, we are currently re-evaluating our transportation and camper drop-off systems as we adapt to safer practices. The information below reflects our current thinking, but we have not yet set a formal policy. You can expect a detailed policy in the Spring, when state regulations are clear.
We understand that many families rely on the NCC bus to transport their campers. However, taking a large number of campers on buses as we usually do may not be advisable or even possible. In the interest of ensuring the health and safety of our camp community, we want you to know that we are considering severely limiting, or even canceling chartered bus trips to camp. Since the safest way to travel in this environment is by personal vehicle, families who are able to transport their campers to and from camp should start planning to do so.
Irrespective of mode of transport, we plan to have symptom screening upon arrival at camp. Any child who does not pass symptom screening will be required to isolate, away from camp, until meeting clearance by testing and CDC guidelines. For this reason, it will be necessary that a parent, guardian or designated adult accompany all children to camp drop off.
Prior to Travel
To minimize the number of people at drop-off we are asking families to bring only the family members that they need to attend. Leave elderly or at-risk family members at home.
Minimizing Exposure and Screening Considerations
Minimizing exposure: Families will be asked to minimize high risk activities in the two weeks preceding the start of camp.
Testing: As testing is more readily available now, we will likely ask campers to be tested a predetermined number of days before arrival to camp.
Screening: Prior to travel, perform a health screening (camp will provide one in advance) to answer questions about exposure and symptoms related to Covid-19. Stay home if any member of your family or vehicle occupant answers “yes” to a question.
This will look very different this year for parents who have dropped off their child at camp in the past. In anticipation that more families will be arriving by car this summer, we are considering implementing the following measures to ensure a smooth and timely transition for campers and their families.
Staggered drop-off: We will assign multiple afternoon drop off times to better accommodate families and ensure faster turnaround times for travelers.
Staging area for vehicles: We will only allow vehicles in a pre-designated staging area.
Restricted access to camp: We will ask occupants to remain seated in their vehicles until a staff member greets them. Camper luggage will be delivered to cabins and staff will assist campers to their cabins. Goodbye’s with family members will happen at the staged drop-off location.
On-site health screening: Campers must be accompanied by a responsible adult to the designated check-in area. Any child that does not pass the health screening will be asked to isolate and follow additional testing before being allowed on camp property.
Medication delivery: There will be a system in place to drop off medications that could not be mailed. We encourage families to schedule a time to speak to the nurse in advance about any specific medication or health questions.
Other Drop-off/Pick-up Dates
We have not made any decisions as to how we will schedule pick-up from camp. We are also currently exploring how to address safety measures with respect to having campers arrive at later session starts. If you are a family with a camper enrolled for a second session start, please contact the directors prior to making travel reservations.
Ground Transportation and Air Travel
Any camper that arrives by public ground transport or air must have an adult guardian with them should the camper not pass the health screening. Our normal airport pickup policy will likely be restricted or put on hold this summer. If you travel by bus, train or plane be aware that sitting within 6 feet of others for a prolonged period of time can put you at higher risk of getting or spreading the coronavirus. For the purposes of ground transport and air travel, people should avoid wearing neck gaiters or homemade masks and wear proper surgical/medical grade masks instead (the ones you can buy in boxes of 50 at a time).
General Safety Considerations, Added December, 2020
Increased Use of Outdoor Spaces: We will be looking at ways in which we can spend even more time outside including certain activities, special events, free time, meals, etc.
Distancing and Mask Use: There are certain activities and times during the summer which may require mask use and enhanced distancing precautions. By creating a tight “bubble” at camp, it is possible that mask use could be more limited as the summer progresses.
Sessions: We are considering whether it is safe to bring campers in as part of a second session once this “bubble” has been created. How we ultimately respond to this will depend on the current state of the science (i.e. vaccines, testing, disease prevalence). Until we finalize this decision, we recommend you strongly consider registering your child for a session that starts on the first day of camp, June 27th.
Meals: We will be maintaining dining hall capacity in accordance with guidelines from the NYSDOH. We will be making use of outdoor spaces for meals in addition to the dining hall. Children may begin the summer eating in designated cohorts to minimize risk.
Cabin Capacity: We do not anticipate that New York State will be limiting our camp capacity but we will communicate with families as we know more. We will adhere to NYSDOH guidelines for sleeping arrangements which may mean making adjustments to cabin sizes and current cabin groups.
Testing, Hygiene & Cleaning Protocols
Thoughts on Testing: We expect to implement a testing program. We have seen significant evolution over the past several months with respect to the types, accuracy, access, and turnaround for testing, and our COVID Planning Group is working hard to select the best approach for our community. We expect a negative test will be required to enter camp at the start of the summer. We will likely ask families to limit potential high-risk exposures prior to the start of camp. We anticipate that further testing will happen during the summer. We will be investigating partnerships with testing providers to support our needs.
Hygiene & Cleaning: We will plan for a substantial increase in supervision of hand washing. High risk, high touch areas, in particular, (e.g. bathrooms and common/activity areas) will have dedicated cleaning protocols that meet requirements from the NYSDOH.
COVID Fee: Ensuring the health and safety of our campers and staff next summer will involve added costs. Rather than increase camp tuition, we anticipate having a COVID fee to offset these expenses (testing, enhanced hygiene measures, equipment, large tents, cleaning materials, PPE, etc.).
Limited Movement & Limiting Exposure
We anticipate limiting the amount of travel in and out of camp. We will be paying special attention to guidelines for vendors, visitors & staff to maintain a safe environment.
Inter-camp sports: It’s likely that we will not be participating in sporting events with other camps, but will be sure to have innovative programming that maintains this aspect of the camp experience.
Wilderness Program: We are hoping to have a robust trip program, but this may be impacted by the need to minimize mingling with the outside world.
Visiting Day & Camp Arrivals/Departures: We will be assessing Visiting Day and its potential impact on safety. Similarly, we will share guidelines with families on picking up their children at the end of their camp session. We will update families as plans unfold around facilitating safe transportation to and from camp.
It’s important to reiterate that our planning is ongoing and evolving. We recognize, for example, that if a vaccine is available by next summer, that could have a material impact on how we operate. To guide our decision-making, we will rely on expertise, scientific knowledge and proven data, which we will garner from the appropriate federal, state and local authorities and vet internally. We will communicate regularly with camp families as things take shape. We welcome your input and thank you for entrusting us with the care of your children.
Please don’t hesitate to reach out to the directors with your thoughts.
Doug, Jen & the members of the NCC Covid Planning Group