State officials link only 10 cases of COVID-19 to summer camps

But safe camps don’t necessarily predict safe schools

By: - August 4, 2020 7:00 am

Kids play a game during summer camp in Baton Rouge. The Louisiana Department of Health reports only 10 cases of COVID-19 linked to summer camps. (Photo by JC Canicosa/ Louisiana Illuminator)

If your child attended in-person summer camp and successfully managed to avoid an infection from the new coronavirus, that doesn’t necessarily mean that streak will hold true for in-person instruction. Summer-camp administrators say they were able to establish safety protocols for their campers that principals and teachers might find difficult to do.  Even so, there were outbreaks of the virus that state officials traced to recreation areas, and a summer camp at one Baton Rouge recreational center was shut down after two campers tested positive for COVID-19.

For many students across Louisiana, this is the first week of school.  Some districts have announced plans for in-person instructions and others are beginning online or with a hybrid mix or in-person and virtual instruction. Some summer camps in the state ended as recently as Friday, and parents who are worried about sending their children to school might be eager to know how children at summer camps across the state fared during the pandemic.

The Louisiana Department of Health reported five outbreaks and 20 cases linked to recreation areas and two outbreaks and 10 cases linked to summer camp.

At the Independence Community Park recreation center in Baton Rouge, in-person summer camp began June 8, and the park followed all the safety precautions and procedures advised by the state, said Cheryl Michelet, director of communications for the Baton Rouge BREC.

But on July 9, Michelet said, the center closed for the rest of the summer when two campers tested positive for COVID-19.

Michelet said that closure did not lead to a widespread outbreak; staffers and campers who were exposed to the COVID-19-positive campers were made to quarantine for 14 days.

BREC continued to offer summer camp through July 24 at its eight other locations.

“You have to balance the health of the community in two different ways,” said Michelet. “Is it healthy for children to be inside all day without interacting with other children, without having an active outlet keeping their minds engaged?”

Michelet said keeping children engaged has to be balanced with public health.

BREC found that balance, she said, by cutting attendance in half, cutting the number of activities held per day and doing more of those activities outdoors activities, Michelet said. BREC also enforced social distancing among summer campers and required face masks.

“If we had felt like we couldn’t (host camp) safely, we wouldn’t have done it,” said Michelet.

Public schools are generally expected to make accomodations for every student in a school’s attendance zone who wants to attend, and schools aren’t generally able to host as many outdoor activities as a summer camp.

Christian Engle, president and CEO of YMCA of the Capital Area, said there were no known COVID-19 outbreaks and theIr facilities that hosted summer camps in 2020. “[W]e put a lot of precautions in place,” Engle said. (Photo by JC Canicosa / Louisiana Illuminator)

Christian Engle, president and CEO of YMCA of the Capital Area, said its campers had to submit to temperature checks and were required to practice social distancing and wear face masks. Engle said there were no known outbreaks and the facilities in the area didn’t hear of any complaints from the members on staff or from the parents of campers. 

“I think (the staffers) value the fact that we’re keeping their safety in mind. Also that we put a lot of precautions in place to make sure they’re safe, along with the participants,” said Engle.

Camps operated by the YMCA of Greater New Orleans also had an uneventful summer,  said chief operating officer Louis Ogle. But he warned against comparing in-person classes to summer camps because the YMCA can take certain precautions that schools cannot.

“A typical school might have 30 kids in a class that are all close together all day long. Our kids spend most of their time outside. And when they come inside, we’re able to keep these groups small,” said Ogle. “It’s typically 10-15 kids with a camp counselor.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a July 23 document called “The Importance of Reopening,” there have been few reports of children being the primary source of COVID-19 transmission among family members . That suggests, the CDC says, that children are not the primary drivers of COVID-19 spread in schools or in the community.

But the day after the CDC released those reopening documents, Robert Redfield, the director of the CDC told a group of reporters participating in a teleconference that those documents had been cleared by the White House. The Washington Post quoted anonymous officials familiar with the released documents who said at least one document underwent substantial editing by White House officials.

U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and U.S. Rep. Andy Levin (D-Mich.) have launched a probe to discover how much political pressure influenced the CDC’s guidance.

In that same teleconference with reporters, Deputy Secretary of Education, Mitchell  Zais said, “In areas where there are hot spots, remote and distance learning might need to be adopted for a certain amount of time,” and Redfield defined “hot spots” as places with at least a 5 percent positivity rate of COVID-19 tests.

According to information on the LDH website, Louisiana has consistently had a test positivity rate of at least 10 percent since June 20 and at least 13 percent over the last month.


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JC Canicosa
JC Canicosa

JC Canicosa is an award-winning journalist at The Louisiana Illuminator. Canicosa has previous experience at Investigate-TV and The Loyola Maroon and earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Loyola University New Orleans. At Loyola, he was the senior staff writer at The Maroon and the president of the school's chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists. Off the clock, Canicosa enjoys playing basketball, watching movies and dabbling in comedy writing.