The Camp Community’s Navigation of COVID-19

July 7, 2022

Barry A. Garst, Ph.D. and Ali Dubin

Camp is a principal positive youth development setting providing critical supports and opportunities for children and adolescents during summertime and across the calendar year (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2019). After two years of programmatic and operational disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the camp community is once again providing camp experiences to millions of youth across the U.S. While the summer of 2020 relied heavily on virtual engagement and significant reductions in the overall number of youth served, the summer of 2021 was successful due to camps’ effective application of a host of COVID-19 mitigation strategies (called “non-pharmaceutical interventions” or NPIs) including screening, masking, cohorting, hand hygiene, sanitizing practices, ventilation, and social/physical distancing (Garst et al., 2022; Suh et al., 2022). In fact, cohorting (i.e., organizing camp participants in small groups for camp activities) was the most common NPI camps used in 2021.

The summer of 2022 finds camps combining recommended camp health care practices, lessons learned from 2020 and 2021, and innovations and adaptations in response to COVID-19, to ensure the health and well-being of camp participants and to facilitate a return to a more “normal” program delivery model. Organizations such as the Alliance for Camp Health and the American Camp Association have collaborated closely with the Centers for Disease Control and other health organizations to translate health care guidance related to communicable disease prevention and management into recommended practices for the camp community. Camp NPI utilization in many camps is being strengthened by innovations including drive-thru camper check-in, which allows for COVID-19 testing and screening before anyone steps onto camp property. Another impactful adaptation includes transitioning camp health care services like medication administration and triage to an outdoor location, which allows for increased ventilation and distancing to reduce the possible spread of COVID-19. Notably, preparation for the summer of 2022 has required camp administrators and camp health care providers to evaluate important trade-offs. These tradeoffs (e.g., staff time off and possible community spread of COVID-19, use of cohorts, use of masking, and vaccination requirements) are described in this infographic.

Youth development practitioners, educators, and researchers interested in learning more about how the camp community is responding to the pandemic, as well as the emerging mental, emotional, and social health (MESH) needs of youth and staff, are encouraged to visit the Alliance for Camp Health, the American Camp Association, and the Healthy Camp Toolbox.

  • Dubin, A., & Garst, B. (2022). Camp programs and health care trade-offs within the context of COVID-19. CompassPoint, 32(1), 19.
  • Garst, B., Dubin, A., & Gaslin, T. (2022). Application of non-pharmaceutical interventions in camps following the onset of COVID-19. Child: Care, Health, and Development.
  • National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2019). Shaping summertime experiences: Opportunities to promote healthy development and well-being for children and youth. The National Academies Press.
  • Suh, H. H., Meehan, J., Blaisdell, L., Browne, L. (2022). Non pharmaceutical interventions and COVID-19 cases in US summer camps: Results from an American Camp Association survey. Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, 76. 327-334.

* Reprinted with permission from the Alliance for Camp Health (Dubin & Garst, 2022)