Will summer camp be safe in 2021? Here's what you need to know

Summer camps have been planning with Covid-19 protocols in mind. In this August 2017 photo, staffer Joe Gilligan helps a camper with safety gear at Camp Sloane YMCA in Lakeville, Connecticut. The camp did not offer programs in 2020.

(CNN)The thought of summer camp in the not-too-distant future will likely bring smiles to many parents' faces.

After all, splashing in a pool, getting messy with arts and crafts, and running around a soccer or baseball field is probably a welcome break from nonstop Roblox games, too much time spent on social media, and endless Zooming.
Indeed, camp is an opportunity for children and teens to socialize with friends in a way that the school year has not necessarily allowed.
    But will it be safe for your child to attend day camp or sleepaway camp this summer?
      "This year, camp directors are carefully planning all aspects of camp with Covid-19 in mind," said Rhino Merrick, camp director of Camp Sloane YMCA in Lakeville, Connecticut, which operates both day camp and sleepaway camps on the same property.
        "The research demonstrates that camps which are implementing multilayered nonpharmaceutical interventions -- including mitigation strategies such as masking, physical distancing and maintaining cohorts or separate groups -- when they do these things consistently and diligently, the research shows they are able to safely operate in person," said Tom Rosenberg, president and CEO of the American Camp Association.
        There were 102 Covid-19 cases reported in close to 500 camps serving 90,000 campers in 2020, according to a Tufts University study, funded in part by ACA. That number represented less than 1% of campers and staff, and an outcome related to camps adopting strategies that halt the spread of the virus, including quarantining, contact tracing, cohorting and sanitization practices.
          "Last summer when we were in the midst of the pandemic, we ran our day camps safely with no incidents, and this was shared entirely by the day camp industry in the tri-state -- and sleepaway camps operated with tough protocols across the country and with rare exceptions, had excellent results, said Jay Jacobs, CEO of the TLC Family of Camps and director of Timber Lake Camp in Shandaken, New York.
          "This summer, I think we are going to be in a much better situation, and that is basically because you are going to have staff being vaccinated," Jacobs added.
          Campers at Lake Bryn Mawr Camp in Honesdale, Pennsylvania, are shown in July 2019. The camp, which did not open in the 2020 season, will open this year with systematic Covid testing.
          "We are all in a very different place now, we know so much more now, and we know that after the year we've experienced, that campers and staff need camp -- they need to be outside and connect with other campers," said Jane Kagan, director of Lake Bryn Mawr Camp for girls in Honesdale, Pennsylvania, where my daughters, 11 and 8, will be attending this summer. "They need to get off Zoom and get into lakes and get dirty and eat smores."
          "We know so much more now that we didn't know last year at this time. Camp directors are experts at planning, and we are all going to be prepared," Kagan said.
          Here are some factors to keep in mind when considering camp for your child this summer, according to camp experts:

          1. Will testing be required prior to entry and during camp?

          At Bryn Mawr, testing will take place in stages: Campers and staff will be required to have a negative molecular, or RT-PCR test, prior to arrival at camp. Then campers and staff will be tested on arrival day, on day five and on day 14 of camp.
          "Our goal is to enable camp to run as normally as we can, once the safety of our community is in the right place," Kagan said.
          "For the first five days, only bunks will be going together to activities," Kagan said. "After day five, assuming all campers and staff test negative, we will expand to divisions, where each age group can be together. After receiving negative results from day 14, the hope is we are a clean and healthy camp and we can sing together in the dining room and have campfires."
          After day 14 tests results are received, however, masks will still be required to be worn when the entire camp community comes together, Kagan added.
          As an extended bubble, the sleepaway camp model is in a good position to use testing as an overlay to an already vaccinated staff, according to Jacobs, who will be implementing similar testing measures. But children at TLC's day camps will also be required to have a negative Covid-19 test before entering camp, he said.

          2. What are the camp's safety protocols?

          "We have been working tirelessly to make sure we have the most relevant information (about the virus) and have enlisted medical experts and epidemiologists to help us develop the safest protocols," Kagan said.
          As chair of the Veterans of the Camping Experience, Kagan hosted a webinar with executives from Disney and the National Basketball Association with over 100 camp directors about the NBA's successful 2020 bubble experience, so she and other camp staff could apply what they learned, to sleepaway camp settings.
          "If LeBron James can be in a place for three months and not have contact with the outside, I believe our 20-year-old staff are going to make it this