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Summer camps try ‘pods’ to keep campers together while limiting the spread of coronavirus

Andrew Cuomo

As the summer sun rises high in the sky, kids who have been out of school and stuck at home are itching for an escape from the pandemic-induced isolation.

Most summers, freedom for kids and parents alike is typically provided by summer camps. But this year, many have been canceled or are currently on pause.

But not everyone is out of luck.

A number of camps across the country are trying something new to safely bring children back without endangering their health. It’s called the “pod.”

By dividing campers into smaller groups and pairing them with just one or two counselors or coaches for the entirety of camp, the camps are hopeful that the virus will be deterred.

At the end of April, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a 17-page draft of operating guidelines for businesses, including summer camps, but decisions are ultimately being made locally and in partnership with health officials. Suggestions include keeping beds 6 feet apart in sleepaway camps and keeping small groups together without mixing.

Here are a few ways camps are safely reopening:

Dividing children into socially distanced pods

The new approach to keep kids divided is meant to limit exposure to everyone, a number of camps told CNN.

In San Francisco, summer camps, programs and childcare services have been allowed to reopen with limited capacity and modifications to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The San Francisco Glens Soccer Club will be using pod groups to split up players into groups, with 12 children and two coaches in each pod. The players must remain in their respective pods for the duration of the summer, Ryan Maquiñana, a spokesperson for the club, told CNN.

The soccer club is offering three sessions throughout the summer, with 72 kids in each 3-week session — a dramatic decrease from previous years. There will be six pods, with each pod assigned half a soccer field for the entire session.

They’ll also employ time-tested virus protections like masks and clean hands.

“The city is having us take other safety and hygiene precautions,” Maquiñana added. “For example, everyone, both players and coaches, must wear a mask. We’ll have stations with hand sanitizer, wipes, gloves, and other PPE readily available. We’ll also spray down all equipment to be careful as possible.”

The camp is prioritizing registration to at-risk youth and the children of essential workers.

Moving camps online

The Evanston Art Center in Illinois is using the pod system, too, with eight students assigned to one teacher and one assistant who will stay together all summer.

But for parents who don’t feel ready, they’re offering a safe alternative. The center will offer 28 online camps during the summer, along with additional online youth classes.

“We’re glad to be offering families an opportunity to participate in summer camp safely, and offer a way to pay our talented teaching artists,” camp education director Christena Gunther told CNN. “This time of uncertainty and stress has affected children. Having a creative outlet right now is vital.”

Illinois is current in Phase 3 of the state’s reopening, allowing summer camps to operate with a maximum occupancy of 50% and 10 campers per group. Social distancing must be enforced.

Limiting camp to town residents only

The Scituate Recreation Summer Program in Rhode Island is restricting its pool of campers before further dividing them up. Only town residents can enroll in the camp this summer.

“The town of Scituate is a great small town,” camp director David Pannone told CNN. “Giving back to the kids and the parents is what I am all about. We take care of our kids and community.”

Under Rhode Island’s Phase 2 guidelines, summer camps may reopen with certain limitations. Groups, no more than 15 people, must remain in the same pod for the duration of camp.

While the camp usually sees around 300 children every summer, this year about 50 kids are expected to attend. To help implement social distancing precautions, the camp is also using the pod system to divide the children into small groups.

A maximum of 12 kids will be assigned to three counselors. Each pod of 15 people will be 20 feet away from each other at all times.

Providing youth with more intensive experiences

The City Surf Project in San Francisco is hoping that with fewer campers this summer, each child will receive a more intensive experience.

Like many other camps, the Surf Project will employ pods to safely run their camp. Each pod will include 14 people, with coaches training five children at a time.

“We feel it is important that we get the youth to the beach and out of isolation,” Johnny Irwin, the club’s director, told CNN.

The outdoor program is also taking the necessary steps to make sure that the programs meet city guidelines, while getting kids together and outside.

“They have spent three months sheltering in place and this has had a dramatic effect on their mental health. We are working very hard to provide them an opportunity to get out into the ocean, to de-stress and learn about themselves,” he said.

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