I'm a former camp director. Here's why we shouldn't get too excited about the CDC report showing how Maine camps hosted 1,000 kids and counselors with only three coronavirus cases.
A recent CDC report revealed how four summer camps in Maine were able to operate while successfully limiting COVID-19 transmission. Jack Hodgson, a former director at a non-profit New Jersey summer camp, now a postgraduate researcher at Northumbria University in Newcastle, England, says this is encouraging news — but there are several caveats. Not every camp will have the infrastructure and resources in place to pull off what occurred in Maine. The "culture of compliance" was a major reason for the Maine camps' success — and that will be difficult to achieve on most college campuses, not to mention within the rest of the country. To keep students and faculty safe, colleges must meet high standards of safety; right now, camps are showing them up. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
A recent CDC study showed how four Maine summer camps operated successfully without COVID-19 transmission this summer. It's great news for an industry that has taken a big hit, and the study also includes important takeaways for schools and colleges.
As a former summer camp director who now works in higher education, I won't be breaking out the S'mores or deleting my Zoom app just yet. Here's why. What the Maine camps did right When it comes to coronavirus, you cannot be hopeful or casual in your approach. Things can go wrong quickly. A single camp in Georgia saw 260 cases. The University of Alabama had at least 560 after being open a week. The folks in Maine showed us what can work. Staff and campers isolated pre-arrival and were tested on arrival. Positive cases were isolated, and contacts quarantined. Camp also looked a little different: Indoor programs were minimized, sports were played with kids staying apart, and strict mask-wearing rules were in place. Small groups were formed who dined together, and bathroom access was limited to single cohorts. Despite this, a small number of cases came up. Thorough monitoring, speedy isolation, and quick testing prevented any transmissions from those cases. What this means for other camps In a normal year, camping is a $26 billion industry that employs over a million staff to host over 25 million kids. Only 18% of overnight camps opened this year. In an industry that includes a significant number of non-profits, who provide transformative experiences to the most deserving, this is tragic. For the first time since 1899, my old stomping ground, YMCA Camp Mason (Hardwick, New Jersey) did not host summer camp. Camps like Mason have adapted their business models to these uncertain times. The CEO there, Keith VanDerzee, told me how renting cabins out to families, who agreed to staggered amenity access and other rules, had helped ensure camp would be there for kids next summer. His focus now is on helping local schools learn safely in cohorts by using the camp's 500 acre facility. This CDC report helps camps look to next year with optimism. The American Camp Association has commissioned four more research projects. Their president and CEO Tom Rosenberg told me the priority is safety as the ACA works to "harvest all the knowledge possible" from this summer for 2021. Putting my director's hat back on, I think that there will be some that don't open. Not every camp will have the infrastructure and resources in place to pull off what they did in Maine. Suitable buildings for isolation of individuals and cohorts will need to exist. Someone will need to pay for a lot of tests and an enhanced cleaning regime. Improving ventilation may mean expensive construction work for some camps. These measures will be more important, too, with kids back in school and guardians back at work, making pre-arrival isolation challenging. The ACA is right to be putting measures in place for next summer already. What about schools and colleges? For residential schools, the findings of this report will be easily applicable. For typical schools, with kids going home to parents with public-facing jobs, the same level of protection is impossible. Decision-makers need to understand they are more vulnerable. In such cases, the lead author of the CDC study, Dr. Laura Blaisdell, says it's increasingly important that all other measures are strictly implemented. Given the size and riches of institutions, colleges have come up with laughable and flimsy reopening plans. Yale even told students to "emotionally prepare" for deaths in their community. That's not a reopening plan. Dr. Blaisdell's study sets the standards needed for success, but some measures will not work for colleges. Outside programming at summer camp, the world of "liquid sunshine" and rainbows, works — but that's not going to fly in Vermont in December. Creating and enforcing cohort bathroom usage seems like a nonstarter too. Leaders must consider if they are meeting enough standards. If they are not, they need to reconsider plans for face-to-face teaching. Camps and the "culture of compliance" In an email to me, Blaisdell highlighted to me how important a "culture of compliance" was in the success achieved in Maine. This is the solution — but it's also a problem. America in 2020 doesn't seem to vibe with a "culture of compliance" when it comes to social distancing and masks; the very phrase is probably going to get some folk hollering "freedom" and reaching for the nearest star-spangled-banner. In camps, you can have that culture. As a camp leader, I've had teenagers don tin-foil hats, crush watermelons (alien eggs), and explore a hole (meteorite crater) for clues. Last year, I couldn't get all undergraduates to do the reading or double-space their essays. Hoping for a "culture of compliance" in a large college community for a prolonged period seems fanciful. The bottom line The CDC report is great news for camps, showing what is possible. The industry is wasting no time in learning everything it can for next year so more kids will get back to camp. The planning going into that is showing up those in higher education. Leaders there must quickly figure out if they can realistically achieve the same standards to keep students and faculty safe. Jack Hodgson is a former director at a non-profit New Jersey summer camp, a freelance writer, private tutor, and a PhD candidate at Northumbria University in Newcastle, England. He teaches both history and American studies. SEE ALSO: Colleges across the US are turning to outdoor instruction for in-person classes this fall to combat the spread of COVID-19 infections Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: A cleaning expert reveals her 3-step method for cleaning your entire home quickly
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US health body highlights risks of reopening after outbreaks in state of Georgia and in IsraelCoronavirus...US health body highlights risks of reopening after outbreaks in state of Georgia and in IsraelCoronavirus – latest updatesSee all our coronavirus coverageCoronavirus may be more easily transmitted in school and summer camp settings than previously understood, after the emergence of new details of outbreaks in the US state of Georgia and in Israel that have underscored the risks of school reopenings.A report by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) into an outbreak at a summer camp in Georgia suggests children – even asymptomatic cases – may play an important role in community transmission of Covid-19. Continue reading...
A CDC report from a Georgia hot spot illuminates just how easily kids can spread coronavirus,...A CDC report from a Georgia hot spot illuminates just how easily kids can spread coronavirus, adding to our understanding of kids’ role in transmission.
Trump is forcing the CDC to ease school reopening guidelines despite experts' warnings that kids will be super-spreaders
The Trump administration is waging an aggressive campaign to reopen America's schools and the president has...The Trump administration is waging an aggressive campaign to reopen America's schools and the president has pressured the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to issue new, less restrictive guidelines. Public health experts say it is dangerous for schools to reopen while the virus is continuing to spread within communities at high levels. The US reported 60,000 new cases on Tuesday, the highest US single day total so far in the pandemic. While children are at a lower risk of suffering serious health consequences from Covid-19, experts warn they could act as asymptomatic super-spreaders. "The highest risks are in settings with large groups of people, in enclosed spaces, for prolonged periods, in close proximity, with a lot of vocalizing. Much like a classroom, school bus, or cafeteria," one public health expert tweeted. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories. President Donald Trump publicly defied the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over its guidelines for reopening the country's schools as the coronavirus surges across the country. "I disagree with @CDCgov on their very tough & expensive guidelines for opening schools," Trump tweeted on Wednesday morning. "While they want them open, they are asking schools to do very impractical things. I will be meeting with them!!!" The president also threatened to "cut off funding" for school districts that don't swiftly reopen. Trump's tweet came after CDC Director Robert Redfield insisted on Tuesday that the agency's guidelines aren't mandatory and shouldn't prevent any schools from reopening. "Nothing would cause me greater sadness than to see any school district or school use our guidance as a reason not to reopen," Redfield said during a Tuesday event at the White House. Tuesday was the highest single day for new coronavirus cases in the US, with 60,000 reported. After the president's tweets on Wednesday, Redfield said the CDC is "prepared to work with each school, each jurisdiction to help them use the different strategies that we proposed that help do this safely so they come up with the optimal strategy for those schools." Later, Vice President Mike Pence announced that the CDC wil issue new guidance next week for school reopenings amid the presidential backlash. "As the president said today, we just don't want the guidance to be too tough," Pence said during a Wednesday press briefing. "That's the reason why next week, the C.D.C. is going to be issuing a new set of tools, five different documents that will be giving even more clarity on the guidance going forward." Pence dodged questions about what specific public health measures schools will need to take to mitigate the spread of the virus. "We know each school system has unique capabilities, different facilities, and what parents around the country should know is that we are here to help," Pence said. "We are here to work with their governors, with their local education officials, to get our kids back to school." 'Nobody should hide behind CDC's guidance' The CDC's current school reopening guidelines include creating more space between students' desks, setting up barriers between sinks in bathrooms, and staggering class schedules, among other suggestions. Many education officials say they don't have the necessary resources or are simply unable to reopen fully under these guidelines. Later on Wednesday, White House officials said the president will roll out his own school reopening recommendations that are less restrictive than the CDC's guidelines, NBC News reported. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar also insisted this week that the federal government would not stand in the way of any school reopenings. "Our CDC guidance is guidance," Azar said. "When it comes to reopening our schools, nobody should hide behind CDC's guidance as a way to not reopen schools. Our guidance is to enable and empower the reopening of schools and physical attendance by our kids." Many public health experts condemned the president's efforts to undermine the CDC's recommendations. "This is one of the most egregious cases of political interference with science-based public health protections," Dr. Ali Nouri, president of the Federation of American Scientists, tweeted Wednesday following the White House's announcement that the CDC will issue new guidelines. Trump is effectively politicizing the reopening of schools, arguing that Democrats and others are opposed to reopening the nation's schools because it benefits them politically to keep them closed; Trump did not explain why they would benefit from this. Democrats and health experts reject that argument. "They think it's going to be good for them politically, so they keep the schools closed. No way," he said Tuesday. "So we're very much going to put pressure on governors and everybody else to open the schools." Some states and localities have already indicated that they won't be fully operational in the fall. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Wednesday that the city's schools will not be fully reopened in September, and instead bring students into classrooms between one and three days a week. Some Democratic governors have vocally rejected the president's efforts to force states to do as he says. "School reopenings are a state decision. Period," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said at his Wednesday press conference. "The president does not have the authority to open schools." Cuomo added, "Nobody wants the schools open more than I do," but said he'll only move forward with reopenings if it's safe to do so. 'Near-ideal super spreading conditions' The discussion about schools reopening comes as the US is seeing dramatic surges in infections across the country. The country has broken its record for most new infections in a single day six times in the last 13 days. While the president has repeatedly celebrated the relatively low death rate, scientists and health experts warn the death rate may begin to rise again as the surge remains uncontrolled. States across the Sun Belt and in the West, many of which reopened their economies in violation of the CDC's guidelines, are being particularly hard hit. Public health experts say successfully suppressing the spread of the virus is a prerequisite for safely reopening schools in the fall. They worry that the Trump administration is approaching school reopenings in the same way it pressured states to reopen their economies this spring. Jeremy Konyndyk, the former director for foreign disaster assistance at USAID who led the Ebola response in West Africa under the Obama administration, argued the Trump administration is pushing ahead with school reopenings without having the spread contained and the proper mitigation measures in place. "There's no silver bullet fix for our economy or or schools. We have to do the hard slog of containing the virus before we can start getting back to a new economic and educational normal," Konyndyk wrote in a series of tweets on Wednesday. "The longer we treat those as distinct priorities, the longer we're screwed." He argued that while relatively little is known about how the coronavirus impacts children, schools "present near-ideal super spreading conditions" that could easily foster new, devastating outbreaks all over the country. "The highest risks are in settings with large groups of people, in enclosed spaces, for prolonged periods, in close proximity, with a lot of vocalizing. Much like a classroom, schoolbus, or cafeteria," Konyndyk tweeted. "When there is a lot of ongoing local transmission, inadequate and slow testing, and insufficient tracing, it's not a manageable risk. Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, argued that the question isn't whether states can reopen their schools, but whether they can prevent new spikes and keep schools open for any sustained period of time. 1. We actually DO want public health experts to shape how we open schools2. Ignoring CDC has been a pretty bad strategy so far3. Question isn't can we open schools. Sure, we can open schoolsQuestion is: can we keep schools open?If we ignore science, the short answer is no https://t.co/eBXqPEGgE0 — Ashish "The pandemic is still with us" Jha (@ashishkjha) July 8, 2020 Evidence shows that children under 12 years old are at relatively low risk of serious health consequences from contracting the coronavirus, however they may still pass the virus on to older children and adults. Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House's pandemic response coordinator, noted during Wednesday's briefing that the age group that's undergone the least amount of testing is children under 10 years old. She also noted that children have been very well protected over the last several months, given school closures and stay-home orders, making it harder to understand how the virus impacts them. Birx added that multi-generational homes will be most at-risk once children go back to school and face potential exposure to the virus, as kids could spread Covid-19 to their more vulnerable family members. Testing will be key to preventing and containing outbreaks associated with schools, but most states don't yet have that testing in place. SEE ALSO: Mike Pence pushed governors to reopen their schools and cited an economic analysis showing the country would take a $50 billion hit if schools stay closed Join the conversation about this story » NOW WATCH: Why electric planes haven't taken off yet