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Coronavirus: Quebec camp operators hopeful summer camps will open

Quebecers concerned over the future of summer camps
Quebecers concerned over the future of summer camps

Jean Pascal is hoping to send her three children to camp this summer for seven weeks.

Her daughter’s day camp in Montreal was just cancelled, but she is looking for an alternative. Her twin 10-year-old boys are supposed to go to sleepaway camp all summer long.

While she’s concerned about the novel coronavirus, she believes summer camp is fundamental

“Absolutely beyond essential. I think for their mind, body and soul, they are campers at heart. They love it and I think after this experience they will desperately need it,” Pascal said.

READ MORE: ‘Far too many unknowns’: Quebec English School Boards Association pushes back on reopening of schools

But the future of summer camps in Quebec remain uncertain.

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Quebec’s Director of Public Health, Dr. Horacio Arruda, agrees camps are important. But he adds they will have to respect social distancing guidelines.

“I think there could be opening like other situations but in respect with some conditions. I know that dormitories are always a problem,” he said. “I think they will be able to reopen, but they will have to reopen in ways that will have to be different.”

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He added, though, that he has reservations with sleepaway camps. He said studies indicate that dormitories are significant transmission sites.

“I don’t think you will be able to be 400 people in dormitories with people all stuck with people sleeping together,” he said.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: What we know about Quebec’s plan to reopen elementary schools, daycares

The Quebec Camping Association has created guidelines for its members to operate this summer. The health department now has to approve them. They include:

  • maintaining social distancing
  • favouring outdoor activities
  • organizing activities with less contact
  • Increased and frequent hygiene

If approved, individual camps will determine if they can meet the guidelines.

Several organizations — including Champions day camp — have already cancelled their summer operations.

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“It will be very challenging and there are no two ways about it,” said Sean Day, the regional director of camps for YMCAs of Quebec.

“I think to imagine that camp can run without risk is probably not being realistic.”

Day says almost 3,000 children attend the Y’s various day and sleepaway camps. The Y is working on a social distancing plan and hopes to open this summer. Day says summer camps are so important to children.

“There are studies that prove that kids who come to camp leave more confident, with better social skills, they do better at school, they are happier,” Day said.

READ MORE: Quebec unions, parents raise concerns over back-to-school plan amid coronavirus crisis

Many sleepaway camps across the province are still hopeful they can open.

Camp Wilvaken in Quebec’s Eastern Townships usually welcomes 350 kids each summer to its sleepaway facilities.

Director Lara Willis admits that maintaining social distance will be challenging in small bunks where eight children sleep side by side. But she says children essentially isolate at the camp for weeks.

“I think a benefit of sleep away camp is we have our own bubble, everyone is here for two weeks,” Willis said.

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She added that the benefits of sleepaway camp to children should be considered, given the risk of infection to children is relatively low.

“Our parents have been on board with us, and we haven’t had many people cancel,” she said. ” I think that camp allows an opportunity for free play and unstructured time that school doesn’t offer. Also the opportunity to be outdoors, we are in the woods, is so important. I think any  camp experience can benefit a child.”

Quebec’s camping association should know more by May 15.