Quebec day camps get green light to open this summer

Campers won't need to wear masks but will be put into smaller groups, and more counsellors will be present. That means camps are hiring, Premier François Legault tells teens and young adults.

Campers will be grouped into 'bubbles' to reduce risk of infection

Day camps in Quebec will look very different this summer. To reduce the risk of infection, children will be supervised in smaller groups. (John Hart/The Canadian Press)

Quebec's day camps will be allowed to open on schedule this summer, but with more supervision and other measures in place to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection.

Premier François Legault said that for camps to meet the new ratio of counsellors to campers, which he says is about twice as high as in past years, they are looking to hire more people.

"I encourage teenagers and young adults to become monitors," said Legault at his regular news conference in Montreal Thursday. "It's a great experience."

Legault said that it's not likely camps will be able to fill all the available positions, as they will be competing with the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit.

"We'll probably have to put some money to make sure the summer camps are available for all the kids," he said.

Day camps will open on June 22. Sleepaway camps remain closed until the 2021 season.

More infections likely

Dr. Horacio Arruda, Quebec's director of public health, said "it's almost impossible" to prevent new infections at camp but "the impact of the cases is going to be low."

Since young people develop serious effects of COVID-19 only in extremely rare cases, he said that parents should feel free to send their children to camp as long as they are healthy and not immunocompromised.

"Kids need to be deconfined," Arruda said, and that the province needed to start reopening activities for children. "It's part of their development."

He said the camps will have to create "bubbles" of campers, essentially small groups of children and counsellors, that will keep their distance from other groups. Campers won't be required to wear a mask.

Challenges operating camps

Philippa Wooley runs Anakkara summer Camps, with the Académie de Musique NDG.

"We're excited to see everybody back and together again," she said. "I think we can all manage to do our activities carefully." 

The camp has rented an extra room in the Notre-Dame-de-Grâce church where it operates. It's scaling back the number of campers who can attend, and campers must wash their hands every 45 minutes.

Wooley says she wants more clarity about who has to stay two metres apart from one another, as some kids will be coming from the same household.

"It's hard for the other children if some can be close to each other and others can't," she said.

Summer camps in Quebec must have as much of their activities be outdoors as possible this year, but campers aren't required by public health to wear masks. (The Associated Press)

Sean Day, the regional director of camps for YMCA Québec, says the new rules requiring more staff and space means that some camps won't be able to open at all.

"The guidelines are excellent," he said, but they "make it a very tall order to be able to deliver safe camps."

And while those guidelines require as much activity be done outdoors as possible, he said, campers will inevitably have to go inside when the weather is bad.

"There's simply not space in most people's camps to be able to accommodate that," said Day.

He said the YMCA is evaluating which day camps will be able to open while respecting the guidelines. 

Day was pleased to hear Legault was considering financial support for camps, but he said that funding would have to be significant for most of the province's private, non-profit camps to open.

"We would need an answer very, very soon to consider opening."

With files from Elias Abboud

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