Is summer camp safe during a pandemic? Here are the factors you need to consider before answering that question for your family.

Campfires. Canoeing. Crafts. You and your children had a vision of what this summer would hold, and I bet it didn’t include a pandemic.

You may have had to cancel your plans for summer camp, along with so many other activities. But with lockdowns easing, camp might be an option again and your children keen to go. So the question is: Is it safe?

The short answer? It depends. Margaret Aldrich, MD is a pediatric infectious disease specialist at the Children’s Hospital at Montefiore in New York. “There is no zero risk activity,” she says. “Families need to make decisions that work for them and for their child.”

The coronavirus situation is different in each state and even from county to county. Aldrich advises that your first step should be to check local case numbers and whether they’re rising in your area. Your local health department will have up-to-date guidance on what’s permitted and recommended.

Circumstances are changing all the time so parents should “educate themselves on that in real time,” says Aldrich. “For families living in states where they are starting to see higher rates of infection, families should be thinking about the need to draw back from communal settings,” she adds.

Some states may not be permitting camps to take place at all, so the decision could be out of your hands. If your chosen camp is operating this summer, it could be a low risk and fun experience for your child, if certain conditions are met.

Before dropping your children off at summer camp, you don’t usually ask the administrators questions such as, “What is your disinfection policy?” but these are not normal times. You want to be sure the environment you are sending your child to is as safe as possible.

Aldrich suggests looking at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance for camp administrators as a prompt for the questions you should be asking and the information you should expect to get.

The camp should share clear policies on:

As Aldrich pointed out, nothing is risk-free, but you can make choices that minimize your child’s chance of exposure to coronavirus. Camp administrators should assure you that they have plans in place to reduce the risk of infection.

For example, if it can be avoided, children should not be sharing equipment. Camps should be choosing games that don’t involve passing objects around. For arts and crafts, your child should have their own pack of tools and materials to use each time.

If equipment really can’t be disinfected between each child, then they should at least wash their hands thoroughly before the activity.

“The lowest risk situation is a day camp where there are 10 kids in the group, it’s the same group of children every day, they’re all coming from the same town or community, and camp takes place in an outdoor setting with activities that allow for some spatial distancing between children,” Aldrich explains.

Day camps are also more likely to be operating this summer than their residential counterparts. However, if a residential camp is in a rural setting with minimal movement in and out of the site for the duration of the stay, it will basically become one big “pod.”

As Aldrich points out, “You don’t have the day-to-day exposure of the city bus or a camp bus where a whole bunch of kids are getting on to go to camp every day,” and then returning to separate environments every night.

The act of swimming itself is pretty safe. The chlorination of a camp pool will kill the virus, according to Aldrich. However, we’ve all seen kids having fun in water; distancing might go right out the window.

Water-based activities might be best left to older children who are more capable of managing their own space, or in the form of kayaking, where the boat itself ensures children are spread out.

One coronavirus precaution is a definite no-no in the pool: wearing masks. “If it gets wet, it’s rendered not functional,” says Aldrich and it could also be a danger to the wearer.

Some activities will be safer choices than others. Camp administrators will likely avoid contact sports like football, as children can’t keep apart and will be physically exerting themselves too much to comfortably wear a mask.

Aldrich suggests something like tennis or softball as an alternative because “you’re spatially separated but you’re playing and interacting.”

Just as each local area has a unique situation, so does each family. You know your child best and can decide whether your chosen camp has assured you it can provide a safe environment for your child.

You also know how responsive and responsible they are, and whether they can stick to safety and hygiene procedures.

If your child has particular medical needs, Aldrich recommends discussing camp with your pediatrician. They know your child well and will also be knowledgeable about the local infection rate.

And even if your child doesn’t have any specific medical concerns, if you have any questions about sending them off to camp, your pediatrician would be a good go-to professional to answer them.

Hopefully you’ve already been talking to your children about the pandemic, hearing their concerns and reinforcing behaviors such as physical distancing and handwashing.

If they’re heading off to camp this year, Aldrich advises also discussing what the experience might be like — particularly if children are returning to a place they have already gone. Before they get there, they should understand that the camp they know and love will be a little different.

Once you have all the information about infection control measures from camp administrators, you’ll be able to explain to your child exactly what to expect.

“For a lot of kids who’ve been quarantined for months and have not been in a standard classroom experience, summer camp is a really great opportunity for them to socialize again, even if it’s not exactly the same as it was in the past,” says Aldrich.

Your children could still have an enjoyable camp experience this year. If your local health department is allowing it and the staff is taking the right precautions to reduce the risk of infection, summer camp could still be an option for your family.

You know your child best and can judge how well they’ll cope with a modified experience and be able to handle the new hygiene procedures.

Of course, if the thought of it makes you feel too anxious, don’t feel pressure to send your kids to camp. Create a fun summer at home. They can always form some of those precious camp memories next year.

Molly Scanlan is a freelance writer based in London. She is passionate about feminist parenting, education, and mental health. You can connect with her on Twitter or through her website.