Despite the still looming threat of COVID-19, Maine Summer Camps Executive Director Ron Hall is seeing an uptick in early registrations for some camps across Maine.
“The interesting thing is because Maine camps did so well last summer, they are filling up faster,” Hall explained. “Depending on the state guidelines — last year camps operated at between 60 and 70% capacity — and if that would be true this summer, the camps are going to be full very early.
“Most of our summer camps are hoping they will be in operation this summer,” he said. “Last summer we had a limited number of camps that operated. Some of the camps relied on testing … and keeping groups in pods. (Camps) also restricted who could come and go into the camp.”
He said Maine camp owners are confident of a more successful season.
“There are tests out there that say it is safer to have your kid in an overnight camp than (being) at home because the exposure that they have is far more controlled at camp than it is at home,” Hall said. “The camps were incredibly successful last summer so I think that is a big factor … and the more people that get vaccinated the better.
“The one area that we don’t know yet is we are waiting for the state,” he said. “Last year, camps that operate shorter sessions — two weeks or less — did not operate, and the unfortunate part of that is most of those camps are small, nonprofit camps that provide a critical service to Maine families.”
Director Terri Mulks at Camp Susan Curtis in Stoneham said they hope to open, but she is waiting for new guidelines from the Maine Center for Disease Control.
“We were open last summer for smaller groups of kids,” she said. “We really have a long history of serving the economically disadvantage kids in the state of Maine. So they need camp more now than they ever needed it before. We are absolutely 100% moving ahead in the hopes that we will be able to open again this summer.”
Mulks said children who are facing economic hardship don’t often have the advantage of attending a summer camp. She added that registration is open to returning campers.
“The other thing that is a little different for us — because of the population we are serving — we actually work directly with their schools and have the kids referred to us,” she explained. “I know for ourselves, we are opening at reduced capacity to make sure that we can stay safe and healthy — and we are going to have a lot of things in place … things like lots of hand washing and smaller groups. So those things will definitely be in play like last summer.”
Mulks added that vaccinations are important, but there are other factors to be concerned with this season.
“Kids aren’t vaccinated, yet,” she said. “The vaccine is for adults, and so when we can have kids vaccinated, we have to move forward in the same way we did last summer.”
When Camp North Star in Poland opened last summer, the camp finished the season COVID-19 free and gave parents confidence in the organization. He said North Star’s success last year was due to management, staff, campers and parents.
“We are still going to limit our numbers a bit this summer,” Steven Bernstein, camp director and owner, said. “But more importantly, we are following really good public health guidelines in terms of socially distancing and cohorting campers into smaller groups.”
He said he understands why some families will not send their children to camp.
“Unfortunately, we have campers who can’t attend for medical reasons — either their own or somebody in their family that might be immune compromised, and their doctors don’t feel it is safe for the child to come,” Bernstein said.
He said vaccinations are a reason for optimism, but they can also lead to a false sense of confidence.
“It is great that staff is being vaccinated,” he said. “I don’t know that many, if any campers will be vaccinated this summer. We are not doing anything differently because some people will be vaccinated.”
Crystal Parritt, Lewiston YWCA director of child care services, said she is seeing more parents staying on top of finding a summer camp for their children compared to last year.
“So we have definitely seen an uptick of inquiries” she said. “I really don’t think they are going to really be deterred like last year or at least in the springtime, when we didn’t have a lot of information about it.”
Parritt said parents know that the YWCA took precautions such as hand washing and social distancing to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
COVID-19 forced the Auburn YMCA to forego its traditional day care and used a hybrid model.
“This summer we are hoping to have 150 kids compared to 125 from the 2019 summer,” director of children services Jaime O’Connor said. “Originally, we were hoping for even a larger number, but with the current situation, a slight increase in number was a better way to go with the upcoming summer.”
Registration for the YMCA summer program isn’t open yet because the Y is to taking a wait-and-see approach to how the new guidelines will look.
“We are hoping to open registration at the end of the month,” she said. “I will say one piece of advice for the parents because I know I am a camper parent as well, and I know I am trying to figure my summer out for my kid. But my advice to parents is please be patient with us because we are trying to plan our summer, but then we are waiting to hear from outside partners like the CDC and the state.”