Published April 9, 2020
The Covid-19 Pandemic, caused by SARS-CoV-2, brings with it a significant amount of uncertainty. Into that vacuum of knowledge flow gross Speculation and abject Prophesying. Here we will put forth factual challenges that summer camps, youth camps, and conference centers will likely need to overcome – it is up to individual camps (and their local regulatory agencies) to best evaluate if these challenges are insurmountable or overcomeable.
Communicable diseases spread when vulnerable populations interact with infected carriers in ways that increase the likelihood of transmission.
Camps by nature are a gathering place of large numbers of people, spending time in close quarters at night, and playing interactive games by day. We will outline those specific challenges later, but for now, let us examine the larger picture of numbers. While we do not yet know the answers to all these questions, if you are hopeful of being active during the pandemic, these are questions that at some point will need to be answered:
- What is an acceptable maximum number of people gathering together?
- Can that number be reasonably increased through active and passive measures? What are those changes?
- What is the minimum number of campers required for your program to be financially viable?
- What is the minimum number of campers required for your program to be a positive experience for it’s participants?
- Can your program be changed to reduce the threshold for financial viability? What are those changes?
- Can your program design be refocused into a vibrant limited capacity experience? What are those changes, and how do those changes impact finances?
While placing a group of strangers together in a single room for multiple nights is a great way to facilitate the spread of ideas, friendship, and information. It is also an ideal vector for the spread of microbes. Some questions to consider:
- What are the specific factors within your accommodations that could contribute to transmission?
- Are some accommodations better than others?
- Can existing accommodations be modified to:
- increase airflow?
- decrease the total number of people?
- increase sanitation of commonly touched surfaces?
- Can new (permanent or temporary) accommodations be created that would better serve guests by being specifically designed to reduce the risk of transmission?
While transmission through cooked food has not yet been shown to be a transmission vector of this disease, food is not the only thing to think about within your dining hall.
- Which foodservice style would best reduce the risk of contamination?
- Family Style Dining style
- Self-Service Cafeteria style
- Staff-Served Cafeteria style
- Waiter-Served Restaurant style
- If changing your foodservice style
- What menu changes would work better in that environment?
- What equipment would you need to buy and/or re-arrange in the kitchen?
- What staffing changes would you need to make? What training to go along with that?
- How could you change the seating design of your dining area?
- How could you improve the ventilation and/or sanitization of your dining area?
Think back to your pre-covid memories… How often have you noticed someone (or even yourself) exiting a bathroom without stopping at the sink, or scratching their face moments before offering to shake your hand? But through positive design and reinforcement, it is possible to improve the overall hygiene of your guests and campers.
- What is appropriate oversight for your specific audience? While a handwashing observation taskforce would be draconian for some ages, would it actually be effective for other age groups?
- Could you increase handwashing if you provided extra (permanent or temporary) sinks that are easily accessible throughout your campus?
- Could you re-design doors to be more hygienic? Flipping hinges so that you push open doors when exiting bathrooms or when entering dining areas?
- Could you add dedicated handwashing areas inside your dining hall that don’t require people to use the bathroom sinks before eating?
- Would automatic sinks, toilets, soap dispensers, or paper towel dispensers increase hygiene?
- Would a small basketball style shot-clock, or a simple digital clock that displays seconds, placed in view of sinks increase the effectiveness of handwashing?
While the risks to some audiences are smaller, that does not mean that those audiences are safe. However, there are some differences in audiences that should be taken into consideration.
- Are there some audiences, camps, or events, for whom a higher risk might necessitate canceling those specific events, while other events remain uncanceled?
- How effective will preventative measures be for this age-group? Will this group of campers follow, ignore, or even rebel against the safeguards you are putting in place?
- If (with extra emphasis on IF) an age group is more likely to be asymptomatic infectious carriers, then how might that change your safeguards?
- If further testing confirms that 1 in 5 contagious individuals will pass a health and temperature check – yet still be infectious, then how might that change your procedures and decisions?
Games and activities at camp are often intentionally highly interactive. And for good reason. Hands-on group experiences are often pivotal in the positive physical, spiritual, and emotional wellbeing of campers. But when the very nature of being physically close can potentially lead to negative outcomes, we need to re-consider how we implement our programming.
- Could you re-create activities without shared items?
- Imagine using the concepts of basketball to inspire a new game that uses similar ideas, but where either everyone has their own personal ball or no ball at all?
- Could you use cleaning and good hygiene to sufficiently reduce the risk?
- For Arts and Crafts type activities, could you purchase more tools to reduce the number of items requiring sharing?
- How might you need to re-setup meeting rooms and activity rooms to help reduce the risk of transmission?
- What new games and activities could you create?
While much thought has been spent focusing on how to improve the chances of being open and at least partially operational, there is another side to consider:
If we’re able to be open, will anyone even come?
The answer to this question will vary greatly, but here are some more factual thoughts to consider:
- Some campers will always attend regardless of the perceived risk. However, in general, the greater your target audience views the risk, the fewer participants you will see from that audience group.
- Without minimizing or misleading, what can you do to help communicate accurately and truthfully?
- What are the groups that are more likely, or less likely, to attend? How can that help shape what camps or events you focus on?
- If an anti-body test becomes available, and if those individuals are immune, would you want to run a camp for such a select group of campers? Would you have enough immune staff? How might the general public respond to such an event?
- Churches, Schools, Scouts, and Groups
- How will the group leader be able to put this trip together under their current and potential future circumstances?
- How is the organization or the individual participants going to pay for this?
- Will the group leader still be employed by the organization when the trip happens?
- What are the finances like for the organizing body? Will the organization still be around when the camp happens?
- How might you provide reduced/low-risk financial incentives to encourage groups to optimistically plan for camp? Full refunds? Reduced Deposits? Are Deposits good for next year if canceled? How last minute can they cancel? How forgiving will you be for a reduction in numbers?
- Individuals and Families
- Has your target audience lost their income?
- How worried is your target audience about losing their income in the future?
- How quickly might your target audience rebound and recover in the future?
- What will need to happen before your audience feels financially secure enough to send their kids (or themself) to camp?
- Do they want to signup now, or wait until the last minute? How last minute would be reasonable for them? How last minute would be reasonable for you?
- Recessions and Unemployment
- How did your bookings look in 2009 when unemployment peaked at around 10 percent nationally? What are the current national rates?
- What was your local unemployment rate in 2009 for your primary audience? How does that compare with your local current estimates of unemployment?
- Is looking at 2009 comparable enough to be enlightening, or are disparities too great to provide meaningful insight
We seem to thrive on speculation and prediction. But without good data, those subjective ideas are meaningless at best, and at worst they can mislead us to wasteful expenditures of resources, or inversely they can leave us underprepared for what positively (or negatively) lies ahead.
While the data coming out of China might be questionably rosy. If we assume that we do not implement a sticker (or somehow better) response, then we also should not expect our reality to be any more optimistic than the conditions and circumstances reported from China, and from other nations as well. Yes, we can learn from the trial and error of other nations, and thus we might do better, but overall, our emergency from Covid-19 will likely be no better or quicker than China’s emergency from it.
With that said, based on credible data at the time of this writing:
- Wuhan just yesterday emerged from a quarantine of about 2.5 months. A quarantine that by comparison dwarfs most lock-downs in the United States. However, this isn’t a full return to normalcy:
- Schools have still not re-opened within Wuhan.
- Office buildings and public-transit in Wuhan are only accessible with a Government certified estimation of risk
- Almost simultaneously as some restrictions in Wuhan were lifted, the city of Suifenhe was placed on lockdown.
Camps provide measurable (and immeasurable) physical, emotional, relational, and educational benefits to campers. However, camps have also been generally defined by the physical elements of camp: a gathering together of large groups of people from different areas, to play/discover/learn together through close interaction, large group gatherings, shared meals, group sleeping accommodations, and often set in beautiful but rustic environments. Unfortunately, by those definitions, the camp environment is exactly the kind of environment that government health authorities will be most hesitant to permit to operate.
But all hope is not lost. Through an intentional redesign of the physical and structural elements of camp, the big-picture objectives of camp can still be met. All while re-tooling your camp in a way that positively, and safely, meets the physical, spiritual, and emotional needs of your campers. Not just in this time of Covid-19, but for years and decades ahead.