Summer camps are uncertain about whether they will still be able to operate as they normally do with the coronavirus pandemic.
As businesses reopen and stay-at-home orders expire, the decision to keep children out of schools has remained in place.
Less clear is whether summer camps will still be able to operate as they normally do.
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In St. Johns County, it seems most programs are still going ahead as planned but with a few added precautions to reduce exposure between campers.
The St. Johns County School District oversees several summer academic and athletic camps — including the popular Marine Science Program at Gamble Rogers Middle School.
For the last 30 years, the school has welcomed rising sixth, seventh and eighth graders to apply. But it’s not just a summer camp; it’s more focused on learning with hands-on experiences.
"Each day there are different field trips that consist of canoeing, kayaking, stand-up paddleboarding, snorkeling, wind-surfing, surfing, fishing to name a few," said program coordinator Kristina Bransford. "The students receive about 30 minutes of in-class instruction, and they spend the rest of the day out in the field learning about their local environment."
The classes are small at 15 students per group, and because most of the activities are outdoors, it makes it easier for the program to follow social distancing guidelines. Bransford said they will issue refunds if the program does end up being canceled, but so far parents seem to be on board.
"Our enrollment right now is on track to trend with last year," Bransford said. "I think that there’s comfort in knowing that if it’s canceled there will be a full refund, and parents are excited about the opportunity to get kids out of the house to do physical activities."
At a recent School Board meeting, Superintendent Tim Forson said the district has not yet decided whether summer programs will go forward on school campuses, as they are awaiting guidance from the Florida Department of Education and the CDC.
"We’re actually looking at pushing our reading camps back to July, and we’re working on three different plans because we don’t know yet what level of service we’ll be able to implement," Forson said. "So there’s a virtual plan, a traditional brick-and-mortar plan if we’re able to be back in school, and maybe some hybrid where it reduces the number of students that would be on site at any given time."
St. Johns County Parks and Recreation has not announced whether it will be continuing with its summer camps, but registration closed in early March. County parks have remained open through the pandemic, but community spaces have been shuttered.
Other camps that were scheduled for early June have been cancelled, or registration postponed.
The St. Augustine Lighthouse has postponed registration for its June day camps, which revolve around the history of St. Augustine as well as its coastal environment. Registration for July camp is still available on their website.
The UF Whitney Lab near Marineland has canceled its June program. The lab holds a sea turtle summer camp as well as a marine biology summer camp.
The Friends of the St. Augustine Ampitheatre has also canceled its 2020 music and arts summer camp because of COVID-19.
But even if camp is open, some parents might be hesitant to send their kids, as new coronavirus cases continue to be reported daily across the state.
The First Coast YMCA has been providing childcare for frontline workers throughout the coronavirus pandemic. Now they’re planning to go ahead with their summer camps as well.
"Because of the pandemic, our summer camp won't look exactly like how it has been, but we do want to keep the spirit of camp alive," said Kimberly Green, senior program director.
Green says they’ve adjusted their group ratios to have nine campers for every adult, and they’re planning to keep groups separated throughout the camp. Campers and staff members will also be screened for any coronavirus-related symptoms before joining their groups.
While the YMCA is still expecting the usual number of campers to return this summer, Green says there have been parents calling with concerns.
"We have had parents reach out, and we let them know that we’re still open and we still plan to be here as long as they need us," Green said.
Still, Green says this summer is a welcome change of pace following months of social distancing.
"I’ve always felt like camp provides a safe, happy place for these kids," Green said. "That might be the one thing these kids have to look forward to."