Will coronavirus force summer camps to cancel?

Published: Apr. 3, 2020 at 2:52 PM EDT
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Summer camp is an American tradition for millions of children. But the COVID-19 outbreak is forcing camp directors to reevaluate, just months before sessions are set to begin.

According to the American Camp Association, families across the country may see changes this year, including limiting or canceling field trips and visitor days, adding staff, or moving start dates.

"We're being patient and we're looking forward to providing as much camp as we possibly can," said Tom Rosenberg, the president and CEO at the American Camp Association.

For now, cancellations are the exception and not the rule. But some of the camps that are canceling are those that serve kids with special health needs.

Camp Kno-Koma in West Virginia offers a weeklong sleepaway session for young people with diabetes. But this year it's not happening, which is a huge disappointment for both campers and staff.

"This camp has been a part of my life for the last 24 years and to have to, you know, cancel, it hurts," said Stephanie Hall, the camp board president at Camp Kno-Koma.

Camp Kesem, which serves children with cancer in their families, has decided to offer virtual camp this summer.

"There's just great disappointment. We know what our camp means for these families and these campers and how much they look forward to it," said Domonique Hollins, the vice president of brand and marketing at Kesem International.

The camp is completely free for families, but this year many of their fundraising events had to be canceled.

"I feel more excited about the future and what's possible, recognizing that it's hard to say goodbye-- in this summer-- to being together in person," Hollins said.

Sage Smyrl, 14, is getting ready for what should be her fifth summer at Appel Farm Arts Camp in New Jersey.

"It's like the most welcoming place ever and it's like a second home," she said.

Appel Farm is planning full steam ahead for summer 2020, hoping the coronavirus outbreak will be under control by the time camp is set to start in June.

"They need that hope. They need to know that when we all work together to stop the spread of COVID-19, that they get to come to camp," said Jennie Quinn, the public outreach director at Appel Farm Arts Camp.

Some camps are also concerned about retaining their medical staff this summer, as nurses and doctors are called to the frontlines to fight the pandemic.

Parents are urged to ask questions of camp directors so they feel comfortable before sending kids to camp this summer.

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