For many kids, summer camp is a rite of passage. COVID-19 stopped that tradition in its tracks last summer. But now, as we’re easing into a world that’s opening up, camp can again be a reality – and an antidote to the age-old summer complaint of “I’m bored.”

It’s still best to proceed with some caution, advises Dr. Allison Hudson, lead physician at Novant Health Pediatrics Oak Hollow in High Point, North Carolina. We talked to the pediatrician about sending kids off at a still somewhat precarious time and how to help ensure they have a safe, happy experience.

Are you getting questions from parents about summer camp?

Absolutely. We're excited that this summer, kids can start to get out and socialize. That's so important for their growth and development. It’s important for us as adults, as well. So, we are eager for them to be able to do that but want them to do it safely. A lot of parents have questions about that.

There are guidelines for both overnight camps and day camps in childcare settings, and the guidelines change as the CDC issues new updates. There are resources from the CDC, as well as North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services for sleepaway and day camps.

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Dr. Allison Hudson

The guidelines are simple and clear. They’re easy for camps to follow, and they're easy for parents to read, as well. They provide a good overview of what the process should look like, what to expect from camps, what parents should be doing and what camps should be doing.

Currently, the COVID-19 vaccine has been approved for kids 12 and older. If your child is 12 or over and fully vaccinated, can you send them to camp without hesitation?

First of all, I want to say that the CDC recommends the vaccine for kids 12 years old and up, and we highly recommend that, too. We are in favor of vaccinating anybody who’s eligible.

Anybody who has been fully vaccinated – meaning they are at least two weeks or more from their second vaccine or from a full vaccine series – is considered protected.

However, at both overnight and day camps, even vaccinated individuals should be wearing masks indoors.

What about a child who is too young to be vaccinated? Could that child still go to a summer camp and wear a mask?

People who have either chosen not to get a vaccine or children who are too young to get the vaccine can still participate in camp, but they will have more restrictions with mask wearing and social distancing. Camps have those guidelines from the CDC, as well as from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services, that are designed to help protect children who cannot yet get a vaccine or who have chosen not to.

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When parents are looking for a camp for their children, are there things they should be looking for?  

Absolutely. The CDC and North Carolina Department of Health guidelines are so clear and so accessible. Anybody can go online and find them and find out what camps should be doing. And if a camp is not following those guidelines, that would be a big red flag.

The guidelines address things such as communication from the camp to families. They involve enforcing the rules of protection against COVID. They involve monitoring for symptoms of COVID – not only for campers but with employees, too. They include routine procedures, such as isolating anybody who may have tested positive, been exposed or developed symptoms while at camp.

We encourage parents to be sure that the information they're getting is from a reliable resource. There's a lot of misinformation out there. I tell parents there are three top trustworthy sources. Number one is your child’s pediatrician or your primary care provider. Second, North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services website. And third, the CDC website.

Can camps mandate that their staff and counselors must be vaccinated?

Employees at camps don’t have to be vaccinated, but it is strongly recommended.

Why do you think camp is especially important now?

Parents are looking forward to their children having opportunities to get out of the house. We have seen such a rise in cases of depression and anxiety this year for children of all ages.

There is some risk you take, as a parent, when you send your child to camp – simply because they're going to be around a lot of people. The best way to protect your child from getting COVID is to get them vaccinated.

Getting your child socialized after so many months of isolation is also important. If a child is more on the introverted or shy side or already deals with a little bit of anxiety, there may be some hiccups along the way as they transition into larger social groups. However, this transition is not only inevitable but doable, and, hopefully, enjoyable.

Putting COVID aside for a minute, let’s talk about kids going to camp for the first time. What are some tips you would offer parents?  

Good preparation is key for kids going to camp for the first time. It might include looking at the camp website, looking at photos of the camp ahead of time so they can see what the camp is like.

If you’re close enough that you can drive to the camp, do a drive-through so your child knows where the camp is. Talk about what the days might look like; talk about what kind of activities the child will be doing. Have your child be part of the preparations with packing and shopping. Write little letters to your child and tuck them in their suitcase so they can have opportunities to feel connected to you. It can help a first-time camper to have a friend that they've identified they can either go with or meet when they get to camp.

Anything else you want to add?

Yes. We're all learning as we go. So, be patient with other parents and camp staff. The guidelines change; they get updated. And it’s not necessarily because people don't have their act together. It’s because everybody is trying to do their job correctly. Everybody's trying to be vigilant. Let’s be patient with each other; we're all figuring it out together.