Girl Scouts’ Camp Timber Ridge in Mableton, shown on Tuesday, May 5, 2020, is one of three area Girl Scout sleepaway camps that will remain closed this summer. The organization has canceled all 2020 summer camp programs through Aug. 9. 

Kemp issues safety rules for summer camps, says day camps can open

With the end of the school year fast approaching, summer camps across Georgia have announced cancellations, but Gov. Brian Kemp said Tuesday that day camps do not have to close.

At a briefing about the coronavirus, Kemp said he was issuing detailed safety rules for camps that do decide to open.

For now, overnight camps are prohibited, but day camps can operate under his public health emergency order. Kemp issued the new rules in the absence of guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Kemp’s executive order enumerates 32 new rules for day camps, such as temperature checks, social distancing signs, hand sanitizer and masks for adults and children “as available and appropriate.” Parents will find it is not business as usual when they drop off and collect their children: they’ll have to stay in their cars and the times will be staggered.

Some camps still do plan to open. The YMCA of Metro Atlanta is scheduling day camps starting June 1, a spokesperson said, adding that more details will be available after officials review the governor’s order. The Phase Family Learning Center in Alpharetta will open too, although things will be different, administrators warn. Their website says kids will wash hands hourly and “best practices will ensure kids have limited interaction with the masses” even if social distancing requirements are lifted. There will be staffers whose sole task is constantly swabbing down tables, toys, playground equipment and bathrooms.

While some of the requirements might prove difficult for businesses to implement, the governor did seem to ease one.

Previously, in the absence of specific details for summer camps, operators were looking to the state Department of Early Care and Learning guidance for childcare facilities. Those required that children be kept in rooms sealed off by walls, doors and windows and not just dividers. Many day camp facilities, particularly those geared toward the outdoors, lack such rooms. That guidance also capped the number of children and adults per room at 10, effectively forcing operators to provide more staffers per child. Kemp’s new order, however, raises that cap to 20 and imposes the same limit on summer camps.

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There is no sealed room requirement for summer camps. Rather, the limit applies only in a “space” where everyone cannot maintain at least six feet of separation.

Overnight camps are banned until the Georgia Department of Public Health says otherwise. The last element of Kemp’s camp order contains provisions specifically for overnight camps should they at some point be permitted, including a requirement for a nurse on site “to the extent practicable.”

Numerous camps had already canceled their summer plans as of early last week, including the Girl Scouts of Greater Atlanta. Others, such as the Boys & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta, canceled the first half of summer, leaving open the possibility of a return in June. Others remained undecided, such as Zoo Atlanta, though later in the week the zoo, too, announced it was canceling. A spokesperson called it a “tough” decision: “We are working on formulating some virtual programming for the summer,” the spokesperson added.

Virtual camps were a popular alternative among operators hoping to offer something, at least. They may help some parents, but for those with children 12 and under who must leave home to work, child care may still be an issue. At that age, state guidelines require adult supervision.

Many of those that closed had indicated frustration with the lack of clear safety rules. The CDC has reportedly been working on guidance that has been held up by White House review. Kemp’s new order says that if the CDC issues guidelines, the state will follow those.

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