“There’s no way to socially distance with an overnight camp,” Dr. Wollman-Rosenwald said.
But day camps aren’t necessarily better. Children who catch the virus in these settings could take it home to their family. Asymptomatic transmission is known to play a substantial role in the pandemic, and daily camp commuters could unknowingly provide opportunities for microbes to travel.
With modifications, overnight camps could actually be some of the safest options for summer, said Dr. Pardis Sabeti, a computational biologist at Harvard University and the Broad Institute. Adequate testing would be a must for all — campers, counselors and staff members — before arrival; and everyone would probably need to remain on-site full time, effectively walling themselves off from society for the camp’s duration. Each cabin of campers could then become its own family unit, interacting with only one another and minimizing contact with other “households” — mirroring what is already happening in many American neighborhoods.
It would make for an unconventional camp, but perhaps better than nothing, Dr. Sabeti said, adding: “Kids want contact. I don’t believe we’re going to have our children stay six feet away from each other in perpetuity. So why not do something different?”
Many camps may not be prepared to pivot in this manner, or to include extensive distancing. And parents like Sarah Peterson, in Atlanta, with her husband and two daughters, worried that some measures could strip the sleepaway camp experience of its charm. “Camp is really about intimacy and forming your own independent relationships,” she said. Before the pandemic, Dr. Peterson’s 9-year-old daughter, Fiona, had been looking forward to her second stint at an overnight camp in Maine, which has since been canceled.
Overnight camps would have also offered a reprieve for exhausted parents like Dr. Peterson — especially after months of full-time schooling at home. Now, without teachers and homework to keep young minds occupied, “it feels like we’re doubling down,” she said.
In New York and elsewhere, day camps have started to cancel their summer plans as well. Others have transformed too much for some parents. Amanda Monschein, who works as a daily money manager in Maryland, was originally planning to send her 8-year-old daughter, Sofie, to camp this summer.
But the camp’s directors have imposed protocols to stymie the spread of disease, including a face mask mandate and a reduced camper-to-counselor ratio. Although the changes are in line with C.D.C. guidelines, they have nearly doubled the camp’s price tag. Campers also won’t be allowed access to the camp’s pond, where they would normally go to cool off in the Mid-Atlantic heat.