Group calls for delay of summer camp openings, saying June 22 is too soon

Photo of Brian Gioiele
Camper Logan Page, 7, of Shelton, cools off on a slip n' slide Tuesday, July 16, 2013 during day camp at Harbor Light Summer Adventures in Fairfield, Conn.
Camper Logan Page, 7, of Shelton, cools off on a slip n' slide Tuesday, July 16, 2013 during day camp at Harbor Light Summer Adventures in Fairfield, Conn.Autumn Driscoll

SHELTON — Be (A)Part, a youth-driven campaign founded in March in response to the coronavirus pandemic, is urging elected and appointed officials to prevent day camps from opening next week.

Under Gov. Ned Lamont’s reopening guidelines, day camps in Connecticut are slated to reopen June 22, but the timeline defies the advice of public health experts, critics said.

Among those saying the state is going too fast is Anne Wyllie, lead of testing for Yale IMPACT (Implementing Medical and Public health Action against Coronavirus, Connecticut), and Maikel Boot, a medical microbiologist at the Yale School of Medicine and chair of the Yale Postdoctoral Association. Both are Be (A)Part Scientific Partners.

“If we go back to normal activities too soon, just as we’re now seeing in other parts of the country, there will be a sharp resurgence in Covid-19 which will also mean increased hospitalizations and deaths,” said Wyllie.

Furthermore, Wyllie said Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children, reported in 15 states including both Connecticut and New York, has already affected more than 100 children, while still not fully understood.

Opening day camps on June 22 will far exceed health recommendations and safety protocols, according to Be (A)Part officials, and could lead to a second wave resulting in thousands of additional deaths in Connecticut in the fall.

“If the US is unable to check the growth in September, we could be facing worsening trends in October, November,” said Dr. Christopher Murray of The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation in a June 11 press release. “We hope to see our model proven wrong by the swift actions governments and individuals take to reduce transmission.”

In the coming weeks, the Reopen Connecticut Subcommittee on Education will be meeting to issue additional guidance for day camps and schools. Representatives from Be (A)Part said they hope to join the subcommittee to problem-solve and work toward a better solution.

Among those involved in the group is Farian Rabbani, founder of Students for U.S. Rep. Jahanna Hayes.

“Summer camp leaders and counselors are not trained professionals … we barely had the training to handle all of the complications that arise when working with children. We definitely do not have the skills to do all of that safely in the middle of a pandemic,” said Rabbani, a Seymour resident, former Boys and Girls Club of LNV camp counselor, University of Connecticut student and Be (A)Part youth partner.

The Office of Early Childhood issued guidelines in a memo for both indoor and outdoor camp programs, but they aren’t enough, said Rabbani, adding that the rules are unclear and inconsistent, allowing for a dangerous level of interpretation from camp leaders.

“It’s important that the state’s process of reopening follows available medical guidance,” said Shelton’s state Rep. Ben McGorty. “It’s also crucial that our safety measures are constantly evolving to reflect the course of the pandemic. I am closely monitoring this situation and will work with the governor’s office to ensure summer camps are given the resources and training they need to enforce safe reopening protocols.”

Be (A)Part community partner Chris Duni called opening summer camps irresponsible in the face of uncertainty surrounding the coronavirus.

“This summer, camp needs structure,” said Duni, an active volunteer in Shelton since 2002, a classroom teacher for 10 years, a Teach For America alumni and a former summer school director.

After speaking with many involved with summer camps, Duni said he found several camp leaders misinformed or not willing to train their staff. For camp leaders that are informed, many do not have the time or resources to properly train their young, part-time staff, he said.

Close-contact industries like summer camps will be hit hardest if staff does not work with experts to learn best practices for limiting the spread of disease, said Duni, adding that this takes time and coordination.

“Managing groups of children is very challenging,” said Duni. “It takes new teachers years to master it. Camp counselors are mostly high school and college kids working part-time. They aren’t set up for success. They need community support.”

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