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Wisconsin summer camps work to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks

Several other states have been hit by outbreaks connected to summer and youth camps, in some cases spreading to the wider community.
Published: Jul. 13, 2021 at 10:31 PM CDT
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RICHLAND COUNTY, Wis. (WMTV) - Several states across the U.S. including Illinois, Missouri and Florida are seeing outbreaks of COVID-19 at summer and youth camps. In some cases, the outbreaks have spread from those camps to the broader community.

Wisconsin has not yet seen a major outbreak, and area camps are working hard to prevent one.

Camp Woodbrooke, near Richland Center, is small, seeing less than 300 kids over the entire summer. Camp director Jill Tikkun said this gives the camp more flexibility, and they have made some big changes over the last two years. This year, their summer sessions are completely full.

“We are no technology and parents are saying, ‘Yes. Take our kids please,’” Tikkun said, laughing.

For many of the campers, this is the first time since 2019 they have been able to spend the summer at Camp Woodbrooke. In 2020, the camp cancelled all summer sessions.

“A lot of our board are older people, and so we really didn’t want to risk them getting sick at all,” Tikkun explained.

However, the summer of 2021 seemed possible, especially with rising vaccine numbers.

“Once that started opening up for everyone a lot more so, that’s when we said, ‘Yes, we can definitely do camp.’ That opened up our doors,” Tikkun described.

There are several new requirements at the Richland County site. Tikkun explained vaccines are required for all staff members and campers have to come with a negative COVID test.

“If they’re here for two weeks, we give them a 15-minute COVID test,” she said.

Campers also do activities in smaller pods—by cabin—and are required to wear their mask most of the time, even when outdoors. Tikkun said kids can take off their masks while swimming, eating and drinking and interacting within their pod.

“Balance that freedom of not having a mask on but still being able to enjoy camp,” she explained.

There is also a process in place if a kid starts feeling sick. Tikkun said they take a rapid COVID test. So far, she’s had a few situations like this but all tests have come back negative. If a kid tested positive, Tikkun said their entire pod would likely be sent home, and the camp is prepared to send all campers home if that becomes necessary.

UW Health medical director of infection prevention Nasia Safdar said these are some of the mitigation strategies necessary to prevent future outbreaks, especially among unvaccinated children. Camp Woodbrooke accepts kids ages seven to 12, which means only a handful of campers are even eligible.

“The more you can move these things outdoors and space out and distance people, the less likely these things will occur,” Safdar said.

Safdar added there is always a risk in a group setting like a camp, but there are steps camps can take to keep kids safe and still get the full experience. Safdar also said she does not think camp outbreaks will impact plans for the upcoming school year.

“Schools absolutely should be in session, I don’t think there’s anything question about that, and there’s lots of things that schools can do to reduce the risk,” she said.

NBC15 reached out to a few area school districts to find out what precautions district officials are planning for fall. The Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD), the Middleton Cross Plains Area School District (MCPASD) and the Verona Area School District all said they are still making decisions on safety protocols for the upcoming year.

MMSD and MCPASD said they should have a clearer plan by August. The latest guidance from the CDC says teachers and students who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 do not need to wear masks.

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