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A Summer With Or Without Camp?

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Schools were closed for the rest of the year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the question now is, what about summer camps? Many camps said they don’t have the answer yet.

“We’re optimistic that we’re gonna be on the other side of the curve, but we just don’t know,” said Lee Vaughan, camping director for the YMCA of Northern Utah.

Vaughn oversees day and sleepaway camps for four to five thousand children.

“Right now, we’re talking about social distance programming and what that could look like,” he said. “I guess the most probable case scenario that we’re looking at is looking to downsize the amount of kids that we could have at camp.”

YMCA’s Camp Roger

Vaughan said the YMCA will start to make decisions May 1.

The Girl Scouts of Utah said they will decide what to do about summer camps on or before that date.

The director of the University of Utah’s Youth Education, a major provider of summer programming, wrote that the university isn’t ready to talk about plans for the summer yet.

With the COVID-19 landscape constantly changing, many organizations said they are waiting until they can’t wait any longer.

Mircea Divricean is the president of the Kostopulos Dream Foundation, a camp for kids and adults with disabilities. He said the question is complicated when you’re serving an at-risk population.

Mircea Divricean is the president of the Kostopulos Dream Foundation

A study by a consortium of group homes in New York found special needs clients who got sick with the virus were 4.86 times more likely to die than other patients.

“Unless we can one hundred percent run a camp that is safe for all participants and for our staff, we will not do it,” Divricean said.

His campers include Mike Argyle’s son, Remington, who has a heart condition and has been riding out the pandemic at home. Father and son are still hopeful Remington will get his week at camp.

Michael Argyle and his son Remington

“Camp K gives you that time to spend with your friends and just go out and be yourself,” Mike Argyle said.

Divricean said his worst-case scenario is having a staff member or a camper bring the virus into camp.

“At that point, you know, you’re in complete lockdown, and then your summer from that point on is gone,” said Divricean.

Divricean worries about the health of campers, and the financial health of Camp K.

“Donations have stalled to next to nothing,” he said.

The camp’s big annual fundraising gala in May was cancelled.

Even if camp can open, Divricean said he worries the foundation won’t have enough money to help pay for campers to attend.

“We know that if we can’t have a summer camp this season, things will get very, very difficult for Camp K,” he said.

Like many summer camps, including the local YMCA, Divricean relies on counselors from outside the US. He said he wonders if they will be allowed to travel to Utah, and if there will be a 14-day quarantine period.

Camp Hobe, like some other camps for kids with cancer, have already made the call to go “virtual,” conducting camp through video chat apps like Zoom since many of their campers have compromised immune systems due to chemotherapy.

Camp Hobe is going virtual this year.

“If you’d asked me, even two months ago, if we could do virtual camp, I would have laughed at the idea and said that was ridiculous,” said Christina Beckwith, executive director at Camp Hobe.

She said although “virtual” isn’t the real thing, it can promote the sense of community that camp fosters. It also allows patients who are too sick to attend camp in-person to participate.

Heather Christiansen said her children — 7-year-old Aria and 5-year-old Braxton — have been asking about Camp Hobe ever since they finished last year’s session.

“They’ve been asking me about it for months, for months for months,” she said.

Christiansen said the children are disappointed they won’t be going to camp in-person, but they’re still looking forward to attending camp on a computer screen. She said the fact that the family, who recently moved from Salt Lake City to Evanston, won’t have to make the long drive to attend, is a plus.

Melissa Firme, who runs Kids Need More for children with cancer and other life-threatening illnesses in the Long Island, New York area, already started offering virtual sessions — bingo, joke sessions, baking, princess time — to help her campers cope with the pandemic.

“The kids are dealing with the trauma. We’re watching that happen,” Firme said. “You might think you’re protecting your children. They hear what you’re saying in the other room. This is a way to alleviate some of that trauma — or make it a more normal experience — and help them process it, even if that’s not the only thing we’re talking about.”

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