Quebec summer camps still waiting for clear health guidelines from province

Registration and hiring processes are on hold as camps await answers as to how they can operate safely.

Registration and hiring processes are on hold as camps await answers

Waterloo, Kitchener and Cambridge are all offering March break camp again this year. It's the first time in person camp has been available to kids in the region since the COVID-19 pandemic began. (John Hart/The Canadian Press)

Will children be able to go to camp this summer?

In a press conference Friday, Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec's public health director, said camps could potentially open, but "in respect of some conditions."

The Association des camps du Québec (ACQ), which represents Quebec's day camps and sleepaway camps, is working with the province to define those conditions, said Shauna Joyce, an association board member.

The group drafted a proposal at the request of the Ministry of Education and is now awaiting a response.

"It's a challenge for camps overall because we're trying to consider how do we keep kids and staff safe but still keep the spirit of camp alive?" said Joyce, who is also the executive director of Camp Amy Molson.

"We want kids to have fun at camp. It's a social opportunity, an opportunity to be around others. So how do we balance all of that?"

The government asked the association to build the proposal around establishing norms in four areas, Joyce said: physical distancing, prioritizing outdoor activities over indoor ones, focusing on low-contact activities and bolstering hygiene practices.

Joyce said sleepaway camps need to know what the guidelines are by May 15, and day camps by June 1. Most camps put everything on hold in March — traditionally the busiest month for registrations — Joyce said, so if the season is going to happen, their window to catch up is narrow.

"Many camps for a little while held back on hiring, so they weren't able to finalize hiring," she said.

"So we really need to hear what those rules and regulations are for this upcoming season so that we can really make a big push forward."

Nervous parents

Joetta Hausmann, director and owner of Redwood Country Day Camp in Vaudreuil, said parents have been hesitant as they navigate a situation with no precedent.

"People are waiting to find out really what the guidelines will be," she said. "I'm sure that they have confidence in us and they're trusting us to do the right thing for our kids. But I think that they're just as nervous as we are."

Even once the guidelines are confirmed, Hausmann has some concerns as to how they could best be implemented — and whether they'd have the financial means to do so.

"As it stands for a ratio, we have an average around 250 children daily. That means that if we have to have a ratio of maybe eight to one, we would have to triple the number of staff in order to make it safe enough for the children," said Hausmann.

Hausmann is also concerned about safety protocols for when a child gets injured.

"The staff would need to have extra training on how to social distance with children which is going to be a huge factor," she said.

With the COVID-19 situation evolving constantly, Hausmann is also concerned the government will at first give them the green light to open, and then tell them to shut down if the situation gets worse.

"Let's say we're a week into camp and [Legault] says, 'I'm sorry, you know, the virus is too predominant and you have to close.' Then what are we supposed to do?"

Hausmann said that, while they are concerned about the safety of their counsellors and children, they are also thinking of the best ways to protect the children's families.

With files from Matt D'Amours

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