As the summer camp season begins, organizers are pleased with how everyone is following COVID-19 protocols that in some ways are less strict than the previous year.
“I would say kids and parents are really happy with our program,” said Heather Greenberg, director of the KinderCamp at the JCC of the North Shore in Marblehead. “It’s just been seamless. We’ve exceeded all families’ expectations of what we’ve been able to provide, not only this summer but last summer.”
The “Summer at the J” camps – KinderCamp and Camp Simchah – began on June 28. Each runs on a weekly basis, Monday to Friday, through Aug. 27. This year, some of the COVID restrictions have decreased in the wake of lower numbers of cases in Massachusetts. This has affected the numbers of attendees and staff, as well as policies for wearing masks and going indoors.
In the first two weeks of the program, attendance at Camp Simchah has been at full capacity, averaging 100 to 130 children per week. Camp Simchah is for youngsters entering first grade through those entering seventh grade, with an additional leaders-in-training component for older children. The attendance numbers are the same for the younger children, ages 2 years and 9 months through kindergarten, who attend KinderCamp. Last year, camp attendance and staff were limited to 40 percent capacity.
In another change from the past, the JCC has made its inclusion program of previous years now fully immersive with the main camp, Greenberg said.
Overall, Greenberg said, “It’s nice to be allowing campers at full capacity. Unfortunately, last summer we had to turn away campers if they had not registered on time or if registration was capped earlier. It’s made me extremely happy that we can do this [for this summer].”
Heather Gravelese, the director of Camp Simchah, agreed.
“I’m thrilled to offer [the camp] at 100 percent capacity to anybody who wants to join this year,” she said. “It’s meaningful for the kids.”
Another local summertime option for youngsters is Camp Gan Israel of the North Shore, offered by Chabad of the North Shore. According to the camp website, there are two divisions: “Juniors, Sabras, Pioneers” and “Mini Gan Izzy.” Both programs began July 5, and run through Aug. 6. The camp directors are Rabbi Sruli Baron and Chaya Baron.
“Chaya and I are delighted that we were able to get camp back up and running,” said Rabbi Baron. “The entire Camp Gan Israel family is happy to have camp back in full swing.”
He added, “We are grateful to the Swampscott and Lynn Boards of Health for their guidance in planning and enacting COVID-safe policies so we can give our campers the summer of a lifetime while keeping all of our staff, campers and families safe and healthy.”
The Camp Gan Israel website stated that its planning for this summer included “enhanced cleaning and sanitation, and full adherence to State and Local COVID-19 Safety Protocols.”
At the JCC, this is Gravelese’s first summer as director of Camp Simchah, but she has previous experience with the aquatics department. Greenberg has been the director of KinderCamp for 12 years.
Outdoors, masks are no longer required at either Camp Simchah or KinderCamp. They are required indoors for both campers and staff, even if someone has been vaccinated. Gravelese noted that those 12 years old and up can be vaccinated and that there are vaccinated children at camp. Last summer, masks were mandatory outside and camp was canceled if it could not be held outdoors due to reasons such as inclement weather.
This summer, part of the fun for kids is the chance to celebrate their birthday at camp. Options include a sports party, an arts and crafts party, a pool party and even a make-your-own party. Families provide all the refreshments.
“We’ve already had a handful,” Gravelese said. “It’s just like a normal birthday party.”
However, the size of each party is capped at 20 children. The mask-wearing policies at parties are different from general mask policies at camp. At parties, mask-wearing is not mandatory outside and for vaccinated people, masks are not mandatory inside, while they are recommended but not required for unvaccinated people inside.
“We go with what the CDC recommends,” Gravelese said.
In a June 8 post on the Boston Children’s Hospital website titled “Send your kids to camp with peace of mind,” author Katie Paradis cites “suggested precautions” for “summer camps and other activities” from the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics.
These, she wrote, include “requiring masks (except while eating, sleeping, or swimming), enforcing social distancing, and avoiding indoor activities.” She adds, “If the camp or class does take place inside, there should be as much ventilation as possible.”
Greenberg said that the JCC camps follow all licensing requirements from the Marblehead Board of Health and meet these requirements every year.
“Our licensing guidelines have mandatory practices and suggest best practices that we are required to do for camp,” she said, adding that if the CDC makes any change in the camp guidelines, “we get notifications and adjust our program accordingly.”