July 7, 2020 at 5:37 p.m. EDT
Missouri is one of several states to report outbreaks at summer camps. The Kanakuk camp near Branson ended up sending its teenage campers home. On Friday, the local health department announced 49 positive cases of the COVID-19 virus at the camp. By Monday, the number had jumped to 82.
Some states, like Oregon, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, closed summer camps this year, and many camps elsewhere have voluntarily canceled programs. But other camps are plowing ahead, hoping that precautions like social distancing, masks and requiring children to quarantine before coming to camp will quell the risk. Other states where outbreaks have been reported have included Texas, Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee.
Missouri’s outbreak at a camp operated by Christian-based Kanakuk Kamp has done little to change the way that state is handling summer camps, which essentially calls for camp operators to consult with their local public health agency to craft plans to keep kids and staff safe. Camps must report any positive cases to the state.
Dr. Randall Williams, director of the Missouri Department of Health, said Monday that his agency had no plans to shut down summer camps in the wake of the Missouri outbreak.
“We think school is incredibly important to kids. We also think camps are important,” Williams said.
In fact, the camp plans to reopen later this summer once test results from all staffers are returned and show it’s safe to do so, Williams said.
Phone and email messages left Tuesday by The Associated Press for Kanakuk Kamp were not immediately returned. The organization holds six overnight and day camps across the state, usually drawing more than 20,000 kids from across the country, according to its website.
In Texas, dozens of campers and staffers who attended Pine Cove’s Christian camps have tested positive, and several weeks of camp were canceled after clusters of cases were discovered. That includes at least 76 cases in June linked to its overnight camp for teens in Southeast Texas near Columbus. The Ridge camp shut down for two weeks in June before reopening last week, Pine Cove spokeswoman Susan Andreone said.
The organization’s Silverado camp, also near Columbus, and two of its camps in East Texas also saw staff changes or interruptions after coronavirus cases. Despite that, Andreone said more than 8,500 people had been on their camp properties through last week, and most sessions haven’t been affected. Pine Cove has 10 overnight properties in Texas.
The spread came despite state requirements that include enforcing social distancing and banning outside visitors. As of last week, campers and staff must wear masks when social distancing isn’t possible.
“Can we guarantee that someone is not going to get COVID? Absolutely not. But we also understand that parents really know their families best, they know what their particular circumstances are or any particular risks that they have within their family,” Andreone said.