Are summer camps safe for kids? Alberta pediatrician weighs in
School is almost out for summer and that has many parents wondering what they can and can’t do with their children with changing COVID-19 restrictions, emerging variants and children under 12 unable to get vaccinated.
Sarah Bootman says she’s been holding off making any plans because of how quickly things change. “We’ve been waiting to make plans just kind of playing it by ear based on the restrictions and based on them (eventually) lifting (COVID-19 restrictions).”
Summer camps are always popular for kids, and for working parents as a form of childcare, but Monica Iwanika says she’s on the fence about sending her kids this summer.
“Without the kids having vaccines I’m just not sure if that’s something we’re sure of, particularly in light of the new variants and what we don’t know about them so we’re kind of wait and see on that,” she said.
Demand for summer camps is as high as it was pre-pandemic with some camps already booked solid at the University of Calgary a day after registration opened Thursday.
Summer camp concerns for Sarah Bootman, a Calgary mom and her son, June 11, 2021
Logan Jones, the youth programs manager, said they are aware of safety concerns and will have precautions in place regardless if public health measures ease, including a limit on capacity.
“We’re incorporating the hand hygiene we had last year, screening questions, pickup drop off process which was curbside, the sanitation of shared items we’re going to continue with those,” he said. “We think it’ll be similar to last summer in those respects but with a few more options for parents this summer.”
Most have cancelled any overnight camps in Calgary, although the YMCA is offering a camping option in the mountains this summer for family cohorts as an alternative.
Nick Wiggins with the YMCA Calgary said it’s been a tough year on kids and camp is one more step back to normalcy.
“Camping whether in or outside the city is probably more important than it's ever been to bring children together in a safe manner but to (also) allow them to have fun in a group.”
Summer Safety Q&A
CTV spoke to Dr. Tehsen Ladha, a pediatrician with a master of public health who is an assistant professor at the department of paediatrics at the University of Alberta, to weigh in on the risks for kids for the following summer activities:
Q: Is it safe for kids to go to summer camp?
Dr. Ladha said it’s important for families to follow all public health measures in place. She said the social aspect of camp is important for kids. She suggested that as long as socializing is done outdoors where transmission is low and measures are in place, it should be relatively safe. She suggested parents get a good sense if the camp is enforcing public health conditions, including if social distancing can’t be maintained then kids are masking instead. She also suggested parents ask if facilitators and teachers are vaccinated to reduce transmission.
“At the moment community transmission is decreasing so that’s reassuring but if there’s a spike in the summer and cases go up I would certainly reassess that plan as a parent myself and as a paediatrician to my patients," she said.
Q: As things reopen and restrictions ease, is it safe to take your child travelling?
Dr. Ladha advised against travelling on a plane with a child who is unvaccinated due to the World Health Organization’s findings that droplets and aerosols can infect someone with COVID-19. She said an airplane is a relatively small space where physical distancing can’t always be maintained and a small child may not be able to effectively wear a mask. She added that while community transmission is decreasing, we haven’t reached heard immunity with adults having received both shots in Canada.
“From my personal view as a parent I’m anxious to travel with my child," she said, "and I won’t travel with my child on an airplane until either she can get vaccinated or most adults have two doses of vaccine and community transmission is very low."
"I think it’s important to note that severe manifestation of COVID are relatively rare in most children," she added, "so certainly its reasonable to consider during a low community transmission period if you are able to have your child mask to consider travelling with them but even though its rare it’s not zero and people who do get the severe manifestations get quite sick. So, as a paediatrician it’s not a risk I’m willing to take with my child at this point and I would say to other parents, it’s depending on your own level of risk tolerance.”
Q: As restrictions ease, is it safe for kids to see their grandparents again?
Dr. Ladha acknowledged the struggle and impact to quality of life for kids, parents and grandparents who haven’t been able to visit in a very long time, but said there are precautions that need to be in place with an unvaccinated child. She said if a grandparent has received both doses of vaccine then that is an added level of comfort and reassurance but would recommend still visiting outdoors, especially as new variants emerge.
“As we see new variants emerge we’re going to be collecting new data on whether these variants escape immunity and if they cause mild or severe disease," she said, "so, I think it’s a space to watch and reassess with new information that becomes available.”
Q: As restrictions ease, is it safe for my kids to see their friends again?
Dr. Ladha suggested families continue to keep their bubbles small and keep interactions this summer outdoors until we’ve reached a threshold where adults have received two doses of vaccine. She said it’s important to ask questions to those you plan to spend time on to ensure they’re taking the proper questions. She said as things reopen it’s important not to let your guard down.
“The key message here is just because something reopens in the province or in your jurisdiction doesn’t mean it’s safe to participate in that activity,” she said. “If you have children that are unvaccinated I think it’s wiser to consider those factors and to know that just because some things are open doesn’t mean they are safe to participate in and use your own level of risk tolerance.”