The United States has seen a series of COVID-19 outbreaks linked to summer camps in recent weeks in places like Texas, Illinois, Florida, Missouri and Kansas, in what some fear may be a preview of next year school.
In some cases, the outbreaks have spread from the camp to the wider community.
The groups have come as the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the United States has reversed course, rising more than 60% in the past two weeks, from an average of about 12,000 daily to about 19,500, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
The increase in many places has been attributed to too much unvaccinated people and the highly contagious delta variant.
Gwen Ford, a 43-year-old science teacher in Adrian, Missouri, was cautiously optimistic when she watched the fall of cases in the spring and enrolled her 12-year-old daughter at West Central Christian Services Camp in Missouri.
But a day after her daughter came home after a week playing in the camp pool, adoring with friends and sleeping in a bedroom, Ford received an email about an outbreak and learned that the roommate of his daughter was infected.
“And we said,‘ Oh, God. He was someone you were pretty close to, “he recalled, adding that his daughter finally turned negative. Ford said he definitely plans to vaccinate his daughter.” He was very nervous. It looks like we finally got comfortable and it happened. “
A note posted on the camp’s Facebook page showed that the camp nurse and several teachers and volunteers were among those infected. Field staff members did not return any calls for comment.
JoAnn Martin, administrator of the Pettis County Public Health Agency, lamented the difficulty in getting people to take the virus seriously and get vaccinated.
“It’s been a challenge since the first case,” he said. “You have people who still say it’s not real. You have people who say it’s a cold. You have people who say what the big problem is. You have people who say it’s all a government plot.”
Dr William Schaffner, a specialist in infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University, said he was not surprised by the outbreaks as the camps reopened this year after closing last summer. He said he had doubts that some camps would “think about all the implications of camping during COVID.”
Ideally, he said, the camps would require vaccines for adults and campers large enough and take other measures, such as serving meals in shifts, putting fewer young people in the cabins and requiring anyone without a vaccine to wear masks inside.
In the Houston area, health officials He said more than 130 young people and adults tested positive for the virus in cases related to a church camp attended by several hundred young people.
The pastor of Clear Creek Community Church in League City, Texas, said the outbreak occurred in two waves, first at camp and then when people returned home in late June and spread the virus to their families.
“In some cases, entire families are sick,” Pastor Bruce Wesley said on the church’s Facebook page.
In Illinois, health officials said 85 teens and adults at a Christian youth camp in mid-June tested positive, including an unvaccinated young adult who was hospitalized and that some people in the camp attended a nearby conference, which caused 11 additional cases.
The Illinois Department of Public Health said all campers were eligible for the vaccine, but only “a handful” of campers and staff had received it. According to the department, the camp did not check the status of the vaccination nor did it require people to wear masks inside.
The Leon County, Florida Department of Health, which includes Tallahassee, tweeted this month that an increase in cases there was also partly related to summer camp outbreaks.
And in Kansas, about 50 people have been infected in an outbreak related to a church summer camp held last month not far from Wichita.
Elsewhere, the situation is better. The approximately 225 night camps and thousands of day camps run by local YMCAs are open primarily this summer, albeit with a slightly reduced capacity, said Paul McEntire, director general of operations for the U.S. YMCA.
McEntire said he is aware of some cases of Y fields in which people tested positive for the virus, but there were no cases of significant spread. He said many camps take precautions such as serving meals in shifts or outside and trying to keep young people in separate groups. Most require masks inside, but acknowledged that it can be a challenge.
“To be frank, there are some parents who didn’t want to send their children unless they were assured that masking was used inside,” he said. “There were others who took the exact opposite view.”
Prior to the school year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance last week to say that vaccinated teachers and students do not need to wear masks indoors and a 3-foot distance from desks for complete vaccination.
Summer camp outbreaks “could certainly be a precursor” to what happens when young people return to classrooms in the fall, said Dr. Michelle Prickett, a lung care specialist and critic at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. The outcome will depend on vaccination rates and which virus variants are prevalent, he said.
“We just have to be careful,” Prickett said.
Schaffner said he believes schools will not face similar outbreaks because they tend to be more structured and disciplined than camps and most tend to make adjustments over the last year and a half. But he said the best way to reduce the risk is to vaccinate most people.
“There are a lot of parts of the country that just haven’t figured it out,” he said.
The COVID-19 vaccine in the US is licensed for people up to 12 years of age. It could be several months before regulators make a decision on the authorization of shootings for children under this age. Studies on young people under 12 are still ongoing.
Ford, the teacher whose daughter narrowly escaped to get the COVID-19 in a Missouri summer camp, worried.
“With the increase in cases, I’m worried that we can’t get back to normal and that we’re going to have to ask people to mask and stuff,” he said, “and I get the feeling there’s going to be a huge argument.”
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