COVID Outbreaks Affected Summer Camps – Are Schools Next? – Denver Post

The United States has seen a series of COVID-19 outbreaks linked to summer camps in recent weeks in places like Texas, Illinois, Florida, Missouri and Kansas, in what some fear could be a preview for the next school year.

In some cases, epidemics have spread from the camp to the whole community.

The clusters emerged as the number of new confirmed coronavirus cases in the United States reversed course, increasing by more than 60% in the past two weeks, from an average of around 12,000 per day to around 19,500, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. .

The increase in many places has been blamed on too many unvaccinated people and the highly contagious delta variant.

Gwen Ford, a 43-year-old science teacher from Adrian, Missouri, was cautiously optimistic when she watched the number of cases drop in the spring and enrolled her 12-year-old daughter at West Central Christian Service Camp.

But a day after the girl returned home after a week of playing in the pool, worshiping with friends, and sleeping in a dormitory, Ford received an email regarding an outbreak and then learned that the boyfriend her daughter’s camp was infected.

“It was very scary. It seems like we are finally feeling comfortable and it has happened, ”said Ford, adding that his daughter eventually tested negative.

Ford said she certainly planned to have her daughter vaccinated, but did not because there was not much time between the start of the camp and the government’s approval of the Pfizer vaccine for them. 12 to 15 years old in May.

A note posted on the camp’s Facebook page showed that the camp nurse and several other staff and volunteers were among those infected. Camp staff did not respond to a call for comment.

JoAnn Martin, administrator of the surrounding Pettis County Public Health Agency, lamented the difficulty in getting people to take the virus seriously and get vaccinated.

“It’s been a challenge since the first case,” she said. “You have people who still say it’s not real. You have people who say it’s a cold. You have people who say what’s wrong. a government conspiracy.

Dr William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University, said he was not surprised by the outbreaks as the camps reopen this year after being closed last summer. He said he doubted some camps “have given thought to the full implications of camping during COVID.”

Ideally, he said, the camps would require vaccinations for adults and for elderly campers, and take other measures such as serving team meals, putting fewer young people in cabins and requiring that everyone unvaccinated wears masks inside.

In the Houston area, health officials have reported that more than 130 young people and adults have tested positive for the virus in cases linked to a religious camp. The pastor of Clear Creek Community Church in League City said the outbreak occurred in two waves, first at camp and then when people returned home in late June.

“In some cases, entire families are sick,” Pastor Bruce Wesley said on the church’s Facebook page.

In Illinois, health officials said 85 adolescents and adults at a Christian youth camp in mid-June had tested positive, including an unvaccinated young adult who had been hospitalized, and some people from the camp had attended a nearby conference, resulting in 11 additional cases.

The Illinois Department of Public Health said all campers were eligible for the vaccine, but only “a handful” of campers and staff received it. The camp did not verify the immunization status of people or demand masks inside, according to the department.

The Leon County, Florida, health department, which includes Tallahassee, tweeted this month that an increase in cases there was also linked in part to summer camp outbreaks.

And in Kansas, about 50 people were infected in an outbreak linked to a religious summer camp held near Wichita last month.

Elsewhere, the situation is better. The approximately 225 night camps and thousands of day camps run by local YMCAs are mostly open this summer, but with slightly reduced capacity, said Paul McEntire, director of operations for the YMCA of the United States.

McEntire said he was aware of a few cases in Camp Y where people have tested positive for the virus, but no cases of significant spread. He said many camps were taking precautions such as serving team or away meals and trying to keep young people in separate groups. Most need masks indoors, but he acknowledged that this can be a challenge.

“To be frank, there are parents who did not want to send their children unless they were assured that masking was used indoors,” he said. “There were others who took the exact opposite point of view.”

Ahead of the school year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated their guidelines last week to say that vaccinated teachers and students do not need to wear masks indoors and that a distance of 3 feet from desks is not necessary for fully vaccinated individuals.

California announced rules for public schools on Monday that allow students and teachers to sit as close to each other as they want, but still require them to wear masks. Other state and district officials have passed a patchwork of coronavirus regulations for schools.

The summer camp epidemics “could certainly be a precursor” to what happens when kids return to school in the fall, said Dr. Michelle Prickett, a pulmonary and critical care specialist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. The outcome will depend on vaccination rates and prevalent viral variants, she said.

“We just have to be vigilant,” Prickett said.

Schaffner said he believed schools wouldn’t face similar outbreaks because they tend to be more structured and disciplined than camps and because most have grown used to making adjustments over the past year and so. half. But he said the best way to reduce the risk is to get most people vaccinated.

“There are many parts of the country that just haven’t understood this,” he said.

It could be several months before regulators make a decision on whether to allow injections for children under 12. Studies on these young people are still ongoing.

Meanwhile, in Tennessee, the state’s top immunization official was fired Monday after coming under scrutiny by Republican lawmakers in the state over his outreach efforts. department to vaccinate adolescents against COVID-19. Dr Michelle Fiscus spoke to The Tennessean newspaper about her dismissal. A health ministry official said the agency would not comment.

The Department of Health recently asked county employees to stop vaccination events aimed at adolescents and cut off all online communication with them, The Tennessean previously reported, citing emails it obtained.

Ford, the teacher whose daughter narrowly escaped COVID-19 at a summer camp in Missouri, is worried.

“With the increase in cases, I’m afraid we may not be able to get back to normal, and we’ll have to ask people to mask themselves and everything,” she said, “and I have a feeling he’s going there has to be a huge argument.

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