NORTH KINGSTOWN – As of last week, Rhode Island summer camps were officially allowed to open back up to kids around the state, though under new COVID-19-related guidelines and restrictions.
Earlier this year, Gov. Gina Raimondo announced that summer camps could open on June 29, though she said there would be new procedures for kids and counselors to follow.
“It’s not going to be just like last year,” Raimondo said during a press conference in May. “It’s going to be fun but different.”
New guidelines, she said, would include frequent handwashing and regular deep cleanings of the facilities, as well as mandates that children stay within the same stable group throughout the summer, among other procedures.
“Our kids are missing out. They miss their friends, they miss regular life, they miss doing what they love to do,” Raimondo said. “For their mental, emotional and intellectual development, I think we need to operate camps in the summer.”
North Kingstown Recreation Director Chelsey Dumas-Gibbs said that, in order to open up the town’s summer camp program, a whole new set of rules had to be implemented in order to provide kids with a fun experience during a “scary situation.”
“We are trying to make the best of a scary situation and bring the kids something to look forward to each day,” Dumas-Gibbs said on Monday. “Even if it has to be organized differently, we are happy to be able to provide our summer camp this year.”
In order to keep kids and counselors safe, Dumas-Gibbs said that the town decided to keep all camp activities outdoors, which means that, in the event of inclement weather, camp would have to be canceled for the day.
“Our camp is a mostly outdoor camp,” Dumas-Gibbs said. “With all the social distancing rules, moving indoors would be very difficult and cause for a whole other set of restrictions and guidelines then being outdoors.”
“With the safety of the children and staff in mind, we decided that we would keep this an outdoor only camp this year and cancel in the event of inclement weather, which is completely different then prior years and is unfortunate, but necessary,” she continued.
With stormy weather all last week, the conditions for opening camp were less than ideal.
The maximum capacity of campers also had to be halved, Dumas-Gibbs said, in order to keep kids in mandated stable groups, or “pods.”
While the camp program normally sees close to 100 kids, this year the maximum was capped at 50, making it easier to keep stable groups of eight to 12 kids and ensure the safety of everyone involved.
Out of precaution, a majority of trips also had to be canceled.
Ahead of the camp’s reopening, Dumas-Gibbs said she took part in webinars and Zoom meetings with recreation directors throughout Rhode Island. She then sent in an application to the state for the reopening process, which was approved before June 30.
On top of that, the staff was trained extensively as to the new COVID-19 procedures.
The new procedures include maintaining stable groups of one to two leaders per eight to 12 kids, who are kept together throughout the summer; staff wearing masks; everyone being screened upon entry; conducting a cleaning checklist; adding a position to the staff to clean all facilities; a drive-through system for drop off and pick up; wearing masks on buses; and canceling the morning and afternoon transportation, among other new procedures.
Dumas-Gibbs said that plans for summer camp had to be entirely rewritten, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.
But even under the new set of guidelines and less than ideal weather conditions, Dumas-Gibbs said the feedback from kids and counselors was mostly positive–giving them a chance to get out of the house and socialize.
While Dumas-Gibbs said it was extremely difficult to not be “able to offer the youth the camp that they deserve and the summer freedom and play that we are usually able to provide,” she added that, overall, “the kids and the staff seem happy to be out of the house and able to be doing anything social.”
“Other than all of our disappointment in poor weather last week, the feedback has been positive so far,” she said.