Summer day camps through Vancouver Parks and Recreation are back on, after a five-week delay linked to ever-evolving COVID-19 regulations. But they look very different, compared with past years.
There are no field trips and no usual pool visits, said camp coordinator Karen Krohling. Every child needs to wear a mask through the whole day, except during lunch, and the kids are broken out into groups of seven that they stick with all week long. Each child also needs to go through a symptom screening and temperature check each day before they can go inside the building. They use hand sanitizer frequently.
A poster on the wall of the Marshall Community Center, displayed to a group of kids who on Wednesday were munching on their lunches and watching a movie, reminds the campers of the ground rules: mask up, no sharing toys, no touching the staff’s stuff, and stay 6 feet apart. And most importantly, have fun!
The campers range from 6 to 11 years old.
“It’s very different. There are a lot of things that, unfortunately, we can’t do this summer,” Krohling said.
“We’ve modified things so there’s a lot more outdoor activities, games and sports games that are socially distant,” Krohling continued. “We do a lot of crafts, we have movies a couple times a week.”
Water play time — where the kids can run in the sprinkler, splash through wading pools and squirt with water guns — has proven a hit, she added.
It’s been a challenge to get to this point. Initially, the city of Vancouver had planned to wait on starting up their annual summer camp program until Clark County entered Phase 3 of the governor’s COVID-19 recovery plan.
But as coronavirus cases took off in July — a second wind that saw the total number of local cases double over the course of just a month — the odds of moving into the next recovery phase before the summer ran out seemed slim. The Parks and Recreation department applied for and received a variance based on their status as a vital child care provider, Krohling said, and camps started back up at the Marshall and Firstenburg Community centers on Aug. 3.
The precautions in place at the summer camps provide a window into the fall, as schools across the country broadcast that they may attempt to give in-person instruction a shot.
“It’s definitely been a learning process for all of us — for the kids, counselors and myself,” Krohling said. “How to work in this environment, making sure the pods each have their own designated bathrooms, they each have their own designated entrance and exit points.”
Together again, apart
One piece of the puzzle that’s gone surprisingly well? Enforcing the mask rule. The kids have been pretty receptive, a couple of counselors said on Wednesday.
“The kids are absolutely being troupers through it all,” said counselor Victoria Lindstrom as she watched over her group during socially distanced outside recreation time.
For Katie McClellan, an 11-year-old Vancouver camper who’s been participating in the program since she was 5, wearing a mask is a small price to pay to see her friends. Most of her summer socialization came from riding bikes with the neighbors — she’s been home a lot, she said. She’d been looking forward to starting middle school in the fall, but it’s likely her instruction will be online.
“I’m an only child, so I don’t really have many other kids around,” Katie said. “It’s been fun seeing people again.”
She seemed to take the masking rule in stride.
“Wearing a mask really isn’t that hard,” Katie said.
Social distancing is proving to be a little tricker. Kids just aren’t built for staying apart from one another. Counselor Benjamin Omnes-Norton said that he and the other staffers take keeping their charges safe and healthy very seriously, and that means staying on top of the 6-foot rule.
“We try our very best to keep them social distanced. But they’re kids, and they also need reminders,” Omnes-Norton said.
Alex Clemente, a 10-year-old camper from Ridgefield, said that the social distancing part is the hardest, even though he has a medical condition that can make wearing a mask uncomfortable. He likes playing the games as a group — his favorite is Mafia, he said, a mystery game where participants close their eyes and try to find out who among them is the pretend “murderer.”
“It’s harder for me because I have asthma, but it’s fine,” Clemente said, as he drew on the ground in orange chalk. “Social distancing is hard. It’s hard to stay so far away.”