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  • Two COVID-19 outbreaks at different summer camps have highlighted the potential dangers of the pandemic.
  • It’s important to remember that kids under the age of 12 are not able to be vaccinated yet.
  • We talked with experts about what parents should know if they want to send their kids to summer camp this year.

Because most people spent 2020 physically distancing and avoiding social gatherings, this summer has felt for many like a return to normal.

Businesses are reopening, social distancing mandates are ending, and, for kids, many summer camps are reopening.

But recent COVID-19 outbreaks at a summer camp in Illinois and one in Texas may have parents questioning what the risks are if they send their kids back to camp this year.

We talked with experts about what parents should know.

“I think the biggest takeaway is that the pandemic is not over yet,” said Dr. Gopi Desai, a pediatrician with New York-Presbyterian Medical Group Queens. “There has been a feeling the last few weeks that the pandemic is over, but with the new delta variant and new outbreaks happening, the pandemic is not over.”

That was certainly felt in June in Illinois. At Crossing Camp in Rushville, more than 80 teens and adults tested positive for coronavirus after attending the camp. The camp did not check the vaccination status of staff or campers, nor did the camp require masks to be worn indoors.

One unvaccinated young adult ended up going to the hospital.

This week, another summer camp in Texas made headlines after 125 adults and children developed COVID-19 after attending a church camp.

“This further emphasizes that the risk [of] COVID in unvaccinated people has not changed,” said Dr. Eric Cioe-Peña, director of Global Health, Northwell Health in New Hyde Park, New York. “We have seen less transmission in children under 9 years old, but in the vaccine-eligible children, transmission is basically the same as in adults. Children over 12 absolutely should get vaccinated and should wear masks until they do, especially indoors and when unable to socially distance outdoors.”

It’s important to remember that kids under the age of 12 are not able to be vaccinated yet.

Sending kids to camps that do not require vaccinations or masks is a risk, the same way congregating indoors and in groups among unvaccinated people has always been a risk for transmission.

The decision to send kids to summer camp this year is going to be different for every person and family. The best way to decide what is right is to weigh the benefits against the risks.

For many parents and guardians, the return of summer camp means another form of affordable childcare in households where no one is home during the day. This can be a huge benefit.

“The right answer is different for every family. For some, the benefits of going to camp, seeing friends, and staying active is really significant,” added Desai. “But the other thing to look at is the risk. We know more about coronavirus than we did in the beginning, so we know better [how to protect against it].”

Some questions to consider include whether anyone else in the household is in a high-risk category and whether your child will be interacting with other kids or adults who are high risk or unvaccinated.

Also, people living in regions with high rates of unvaccinated people or where the virus is spreading more rapidly may want to consider keeping kids too young to be vaccinated at home.

Unlike last summer, experts know so much more about staying safe this summer, even for people who cannot get vaccinated yet.

Staying outdoors, wearing masks, and staying socially distant, for example, are three of the best ways to reduce the chance of transmission.

“If you have children that would benefit from camp this summer, put them in the safest possible circumstances,” said Desai. “This includes those that are doing outdoor activities, camps that are requiring or asking staff to get vaccinated when possible, and camps where mask-wearing is an option.”

And, of course, ensuring that your kids are vaccinated whenever it’s possible in your state is the best way to keep everyone at home and at camp safe.

“[What happened in Illinois] is a great lesson for everyone to learn,” said Desai. “Clearly, masks and vaccines really do work. I think that is the biggest takeaway from this and what we can use going forward to keep our children safe. This is the final push, and it’s not the time to let our guards down.”