Summer camps hit by COVID-19 outbreaks

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A July COVID-19 outbreak linked to a Connecticut summer camp that led 13 campers to test positive is the latest in a series of camp-related spreads that worry parents for the upcoming school year.

The vast majority of summer camps operate smoothly. But what’s happening at camp is not staying at camp – and that’s the problem. In many cases, outbreaks in the camps have spread to local communities, providing insight into the highly contagious delta variant.

In June, Illinois health officials reported that 85 adolescents and adults at a Christian youth camp tested positive, including an unvaccinated young adult who had been hospitalized. Eleven more cases were reported after some people in the camp attended a conference nearby.

In early July, officials in Leon County, Florida tweeted that an increase in cases was linked to young children in summer camps. Weeks later, the Extended Day Enrichment Program at Conley Elementary School in Tallahassee closed due to positive cases among students.

In New York, a outbreak at Camp Pontiac left 31 children with COVID-19.

Are summer camps a forecast for classrooms?

Dr. Michelle Prickett, pulmonary and critical care specialist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, told The Associated Press that summer camp outbreaks “could certainly be a precursor” and that the outcome will depend on vaccination rates and viral variants.

Dr Albert Icksang Ko, professor of epidemiology and medicine at the Yale School of Public Health, agreed.

“I unfortunately think this is a precursor in a sense for fall,” Ko told TODAY Parents, noting the highly heritable nature of the delta variant. “It’s really quite surprising… you have a pathogen that has doubled its transmissibility within a year and a half of being discovered.”

Dr David Dowdy, associate professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said it’s important to recognize that while summer camp outbreaks show that transmission between children is possible, it doesn’t is not the whole story.

“It’s important to recognize that there are a lot of kids in summer camps and you’re going to hear about the few who have epidemics,” Dowdy told TODAY Parents, adding that the way the kids interact at summer camp is not exactly how they interact at school.

Ko suggested that the United States look at what has happened in other countries.

“In Israel, they had the transmission of the delta in schools,” he explained. “In England, adolescents and children under the age of 18 have not been vaccinated; they have seen the number of incidents increase ninefold in this group of 13 to 17 years old.”

But there is good news.

“Children have a much lower risk of developing serious complications, hospitalizations and death from COVID than older segments of the population,” Ko said.

Dowdy added, “Schools are going to think about the possibility of transmission within the school walls, so they are going to implement certain kinds of procedures, which will differ from place to place.”

Before the 2021-2022 school year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated their orientation for K-12 schools: Due to the highly contagious delta variant, wearing a mask indoors is recommended for ages 2 and over, regardless of vaccination status.

Ko said it was a good thing.

“We know it’s a disease that causes super spread, (but) risk mitigation works,” Ko said, adding that mitigation efforts are key to prevention. “I am optimistic that if we go back to the meat and potatoes of prevention, coupled with vaccination, we can safely open schools.”

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