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Covid’s effect on JCC summer camps

By Stacey Dresner

STATEWIDE – On June 8, when Gov. Charlie Baker declared that Phase 2 of the reopening plan for the state of Massachusetts was going into effect following months of Covid-19 closings, the Worcester Jewish Community Center Summer Day Camp announced that they will open on June 22.

“We’re definitely having camp. We are planning for the whole summer, but within the guidelines of the state,” said Emily Rosenbaum, executive director of the Worcester JCC.

The leadership of the Springfield Jewish Community Center has decided not to open the JCC’s Day Camps this summer, announcing it in a letter to the J’s membership.

“This week we made the difficult decision to cancel our traditional summer day camp programs in 2020. After reviewing the day camp guidelines released from the state last week, and carefully considering guidance from the American Camping Association, CDC, and medical experts, we concluded that the required program modifications would make it too difficult for us to confidently open a safe and high-quality day camp this summer. We know that this news comes with great disappointment for the campers, staff, and families that have been eagerly looking forward to camp, especially during these times,” said the letter, signed by JCC President Jonathan Goldsmith and Executive Director Michael Paysnick.

In the letter, they added that the JCC’s programming staff is preparing some alternative experiences for its youth and families for this summer.

Rosenbaum said that Worcester’s JCC camp is enrolled right now for about 2/3 of its capacity.

“With the regulation changes we can probably still take another 40 children, per week. We still have plenty of room.”

The camp offered families that had already enrolled refunds if they chose not to send their children to camp. The final date for refunds was June 10, so that the camp could open up slots to more campers. By June 10, Megan Catlin, director of the summer camp and the JCC’s Youth Director, had reached out to all of the camp families with updates so that families could decide whether summer camp is in the cards for their kids this year.

“A lot of families were waiting to see about the regulations, and some families have said that they have family members who just can’t risk any type of exposure to the virus, so they decided not to send their child,” Rosenbaum said. 

After the governor made his announcement about Phase 2, the JCCs received revised guidelines – 34 pages of them — from the state and Early Education and Care (EEC), the agency through which camps are licensed.

“Basically, it’s ratios of how many kids and staff can be in a group; cleaning protocols; things like, no parents or visitors are allowed in the building,” Megan Catlin explained. “We are in the process of working it all out.”

Surprisingly, one of the newly revised guidelines says that camp staff will not need to take the temperatures of campers arriving each morning.

According to the camp’s FAQ email sent to parents, “After EEC consulted with the COVID-19 Command Center’s Medical Advisory Committee, including infectious disease experts, it became clear that the number of both false positive and false negative results made temperature checks an unreliable requirement to assess daily health status.”

“We were floored when we saw that,” said Catlin. “It is just so fluid. Everything changes daily.”

Camp staff will still ask several questions during morning drop-off time, including whether the camper has or has been in contact with anyone with a sore throat, cough, or trouble breathing.

Parents will not be allowed to enter the JCC building to accompany their children to their camp groups.

All staff and campers will be required to wear masks when social distancing is not possible. Masks won’t be required during meals, swimming or outdoor play if campers are socially distanced appropriately.

Parents must send their children to camp with all of the lunches and snacks they need; and there will be extensive hand washing and other sanitizing policies implemented as per the state’s guidelines.

In terms of activities, there will be no electives this summer for the older campers, to prevent inter-mingling, and no field trips. 

“The children will stay together in groups of 10. They will have a home base and a group that they will stay with all day, rather than splitting out and mixing with other groups. And each group will have two counselors,” Rosenbaum said.

The JCC’s summer sports and dance camps will not be operating this summer. 

“Because of social distancing it would be hard because we couldn’t have them play the actual contact sports, such as the basketball and baseball camps that we usually have, so we are going to have our sports staff be our specialist in our day camp,” Rosenbaum said. “They will be doing sports every day with separate groups.”

The campers will also meet with the art specialist and play on the JCC’s playground and get needed downtime to hang out with their friends.

One of the most popular things offered by the Worcester day camp will still occur – the Nature program.

“The nature program is huge,” Catlin said. “We have a pond and it’s so much fun. We have fishing poles and the kids go down and they actually catch fish. They build lean-to’s, they build a fire, they clear out the woods and make benches out of logs, hunt for worms and get a lesson on worms. They really love it.”

Campers will also get some time in the pool.

“We have an indoor pool and they will be swimming with their group of 10, socially distancing,” said Rosenbaum, who reported that the JCC’s outdoor pool will be closed for the summer.

On rainy days, Rosenbaum said, there is plenty of room in the JCC building for all of the campers to spread out safely.

But they are hoping for a lot of sunny days.

“We have so much outdoor fun that they will be able to get a lot of really good play in, which is really what children should be doing over the summer,” Rosenbaum said. “You are speaking to the mom of an 11-year-old who has been working on her school work all day and just seeing her family, and is really excited to come to camp. So much personal growth and socialization happens in between learning and in between activities — lessons about how to be a friend, and how to be a team partner, how to be a good supporter of your friends. Those things are so important.”

Main Photo: Campers at the Worcester JCC Summer Day Camps this summer won’t be able to hang out as closely as this group did last year, due to Covid-19 guidelines.

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