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  • Jeff Baierlein

Summer camp disregards public health guidance; COVID-19 outbreak follows

Earlier this month, more than 50 teen campers and adult staff at a summer camp in Illinois USA tested positive for COVID-19. At least one person was hospitalized in the outbreak.

All campers and staff were eligible for vaccination. But only a handful apparently received the vaccine.

The camp did not check vaccination status. The camp also didn't require masks while indoors. Masks didn’t even appear on a camp packing list.

The camp is run by a church with locations in multiple US states. This was reported to be the second time that possible community exposure to COVID-19 was linked to the church affiliated with the camp.

Public Health Agencies Encourage COVID-19 Prevention Steps

Since the pandemic began more than a year ago, public health agencies have urged individuals to use masks, practice distancing, and take other measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in unvaccinated individuals.

When Illinois re-opened in June, following more than a year of strict pandemic protocols, the state urged unvaccinated residents to continue using masks and practice physical distancing, particularly indoors. The state also urges all residents 12 and older to be vaccinated, especially as more transmissible and dangerous COVID-19 variants, such as the Delta variant, spread.

A Familiar Story, and a Preventable Outbreak

One year ago, a summer camp in the US state of Georgia experienced a massive and sudden COVID-19 outbreak, and closed just four days after it opened, with 76% of attendees tested being positive for COVID-19.

The camp did not follow all the CDC’s recommendations that campers wear masks, and open windows and doors for increased indoor ventilation. Instead, the campers engaged in daily vigorous singing and cheering indoors, which probably increased transmission rates, according to a CDC report.

But other camps in summer 2020 followed public health guidelines, with great success. A case study describes a group of four summer camps in northeastern USA, with over a thousand attendees from seven countries, that successfully prevented and mitigated SARS-CoV-2 transmission. Standard non-pharmaceutical public health approaches such as mask use, distancing, testing, and hygiene measures were used.

Even in summer 2000, standard public health measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in summer camps were known and used. This summer, many in the USA are fortunate to have the additional protection of vaccination.

This makes the June 2021 news from Illinois of another preventable outbreak of COVID-19 all the more disappointing.

The CDC, local public health agencies, and the American Camp Association all urge camps and other outdoor programs to follow public health recommendations on preventing COVID-19 transmission.


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