Thursday, June 04, 2020

If we don’t feel comfortable sending our children on a play date down the street, how can we possibly send them to camp with hundreds of other children?

Governor Andrew Cuomo - Cancel Sleepaway Camps!

There is an adage in medicine: “We don’t always have to be right, but we can’t afford to be wrong.”

Dr. Kass and Dr. Baren are camp doctors and emergency medicine physicians.

We grew up going to camp, as have our children. We spent a collective quarter-century as camp doctors and founded a company that advises summer camps on their health care needs. At the start of this pandemic, we predicted that camps wouldn’t operate normally this summer, if at all. Now we’ve reached a conclusion: 

Overnight camp should be canceled this summer.

We know no child or parent wants this. Nor do we. But as front line health care workers, we both contracted Covid-19, so we appreciate firsthand how much uncertainty and danger this coronavirus presents.

Federal guidance on the opening of camps has been vague and slow to come. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recently issued information on gathering for schools and workplaces, with supplemental guidance for overnight camps. These “considerations” for overnight camps include limiting attendance to local residents, placing barriers between bathroom sinks and between beds, enforcing social distancing and sending home any campers or staff members with Covid-19 symptoms, such as fever, cough or runny nose. 

Sleepaway camps are listed as the “highest risk” category.

If followed, the guidance, which does not support any form of on-site quarantine or testing for the virus, effectively ends the feasibility of overnight camps. Without reliable testing, the inability to distinguish between other viral illnesses and Covid-19 places an enormous burden on doctors and nurses. The virus has an ever-expanding array of complications, some poorly understood, and is now being called “the great invader,” with clinical symptoms that affect nearly every organ of the body.

In camp-age children, the newly described multisystem inflammatory syndrome can be deadly. Even experienced clinicians will have a difficult time figuring out exactly what to do with a child who has seemingly benign symptoms. A cold may or may not really be a cold, and a few of these cases at a camp’s health center could effectively shut down the entire operation.

Camps are primarily in rural communities where an increasing number of Covid-19 cases are now emerging. That local rise in cases increases the risk of transmission into camps, which could overwhelm already fragile hospital systems. Infected campers can be sent to their home communities for care, but local residents rely on these hospitals, which serve some of our poorest and sickest citizens.

In Connecticut despite the governor’s executive order prohibiting overnight camp, some directors are petitioning for an exception, citing their plan to test every child before arrival or to create “quarantine bubbles.” This approach is ill advised and shortsighted. There are simply too many variables to justify a departure from tried and true public health algorithms needed to contain this serious infectious disease.

We need to act slowly and deliberately as we move through this pandemic. Each step forward must be taken in a way that enables us to also take a step back if the need arises. Overnight camps are not our next step. Anyone who says otherwise is either misinformed or not seeing the truth. As parents, we need to assume the responsibility for our children’s re-entry into a more open society.

The first groups to interact beyond quarantine should be families, not children in cabins or bunks. If we don’t feel comfortable sending our children on a play date down the street, how can we possibly send them to another state to live with hundreds of other children in a less supervised setting? Family camp, a hybrid of the camp experience restricted to family units, has been suggested as an alternative this summer. We think this model, if well thought out and executed consistently, could be both a viable and exciting alternative.

We love camp for the autonomy and freedom it offers children and the importance it plays in healthy child development. Camp affords children the opportunity to take ownership of their daily lives and to have some jurisdiction over their health in a safe environment. If we cannot offer that safe environment, we risk doing more harm than good. If we open sleepaway camps only to see them close shortly thereafter, we run the risk that our children think we don’t know how to make the right choices that keep them safe.

We know this isn’t easy to hear. This is yet another loss in the coronavirus era. As parents and doctors we understand this deeply. There is an adage in medicine: “We don’t always have to be right, but we can’t afford to be wrong.” This is especially true for a disease whose effect on children is just now coming into view.

Our children deserve to know where we stand on this issue. With the facts on the table, the responsible thing to do is cancel overnight camps now. We look forward to meeting again in the summer of 2021.

Dr. Dara Kass is an associate professor of emergency medicine at Columbia University Medical Center.

Dr. Jill M. Baren is a professor of emergency medicine, pediatrics and medical ethics at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine.


From: Governor Cuomo
Sent: Thursday, June 4, 2020 10:03 AM
To: Paul Mendlowitz
Subject: Thank you for your Correspondence

Thank you for your email. To build a stronger, better New York, we need the participation of citizens like you – sharing your ideas, comments, and concerns. Your input is invaluable to our mission to create a government that works for its people, and I appreciate you taking the time to contribute your feedback.

I want to assure you that your letter has been received and that it will be read and shared with the appropriate members of my staff.

I encourage you to visit my website, www.governor.ny.gov, where you can review my Administration’s initiatives and familiarize yourself with my office and your state government. You can also follow us on Twitter at @NYGovCuomo and Facebook at www.facebook.com/GovernorAndrewCuomo for the latest updates.

Thank you again for sharing your perspective and for joining in the effort to build a new New York.


Governor Andrew M. Cuomo