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Summer camp has changed: 8 things parents should know about camps during COVID

Summer camps are opening, but they're going to look different. Here's what to expect.
/ Source: TODAY

As parts of the country reopen after the COVID-19 pandemic, parents may be looking forward to sending kids to day camps for some post-quarantine summer fun.

What will that look like? As the CDC continues updating suggested guidelines for summer camps, it's normal for moms and dads to wonder.

Frank DiLeonardi, president of Level 5 Athletics, an organization in Westminster, Maryland that runs summer sports camps for kids, says his focus is on following state and county guidelines to keep everyone safe.

"I feel bad for the kids," DiLeonardi told TODAY Parents. "We should try our hardest to give them a good experience, and we're trying to figure out how to do that."

Below are some ways DiLeonardi and other camp directors say summer camps will be different this year.

1. Social distancing

Most camps will take extra precautions to keep kids the recommended six feet apart, through measures like plexiglass barriers or personal spaces marked off with tape. Games like tag that require physical contact with other campers may be on hold this season, and kids may be encouraged to avoid contact with any camper, even if it's a close friend.

Dominic DelBrocco is executive and artistic director of the Henegar Center, a Melbourne, Florida theater facility that holds summer drama camps.

"Once students are in the camp setting in our auditorium, we're able to social distance kids through assigned seats," explained DelBrocco. "They have at least four theater seats between them on all sides and when they are asked up on stage, we continue to practice social distancing."

2. Hand sanitizer

"We have jugs of hand sanitizer all over the place — the 99.9% effective kind," DiLeonardi said. "When you smell it, it knocks you out, but we know it's doing its job."

DelBrocco says when kids enter the building, staff immediately ask them to use hand sanitizer. Hand sanitizing is repeated each time kids use the restroom and again when they are dismissed.

3. Drop-off and pick-up

Expect precautions in place at drop-off and pick-up like parents being required to wear masks or being prohibited from entering the building with their child.

"Parents aren't really allowed in... just to minimize how many people are coming in and out," said DelBrocco, who implemented a drive-up system similar to a school car line for parents this year.

4. Daily temperature and health screenings

DelBrocco and his staff complete temperature checks on each child at drop-off. Parents are also asked a series of questions about possible COVID-19 symptoms and exposure on a daily basis, to help screen campers for potential illness.

5. Fewer campers in each session

DelBrocco's theater typically sees between 50-75 students per session. This year, the organization added more classes per day and split enrolled campers into smaller groups.

At DiLeonardi's camps, kids move through the day in small groups with other campers who are the same age.

6. Ask about masks

Since some areas are not enforcing mandatory mask-wearing, camps can choose whether they'll require instructors and kids to wear them.

"Our staff only wear a mask when they're inside, or when we're checking kids in and out," DiLeonardi explained. "Initially, we planned on our coaches having to wear masks on the field during training, but that requirement has been lifted statewide."

7. What to pack

Be sure to send kids to camp with items like their own hand sanitizer or disinfectant wipes, and encourage them to use them throughout the day.

If the camp is outdoors, DiLeonardi recommends packing spray-on sunscreen so staff members don't have to touch a child in order to help them re-apply their SPF.

DelBrocco recommends packing a water bottle, as some facilities may only have water fountains and may not be allowing students to use them for sanitary reasons.

8. Things may go virtual

Monique Washington-Jones owns Karate 4 Girls and holds karate summer camps in Columbia, Maryland.

Washington-Jones says she and her colleagues recently decided to hold some camps virtually.

"We're finding that about 40-45% of people that have registered aren't really comfortable with coming back," said Washington-Jones. "We decided to cancel the in-person program and are promoting the online option instead."

As a mom and a small business owner, Washington-Jones advises fellow parents to be patient with camp providers as they navigate serving their communities during the pandemic.

"You have to be flexible and, in the words of Bruce Lee, be like water," said Washington-Jones. "It's a huge balancing act because there's a lot of things that go on behind the scenes from a business standpoint, but I'm a parent and I get it so I want to be empathetic about families' needs, too."

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