COVID-19 cases delay opening of Saint John Y's Camp Glenburn
15 of 45 staff tested positive, says president and CEO Shilo Boucher
COVID-19 cases among staff have delayed the opening of an overnight summer camp in the Saint John region and prompted some changes to help avoid an outbreak.
Fifteen of Camp Glenburn's 45 staff tested positive as part of routine testing during training last week, said Shilo Boucher, president and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Saint John.
"We decided it was probably in the best interests of everybody if we postpone camp for a week because we didn't want kids coming to camp and getting sick," she said. "And of course, we wanted to look after our staff, which is very important as well."
More than 100 children, aged seven to 15, were scheduled to arrive at the camp July 3 to attend one- or two-week programs, such as explorer and leadership, said Boucher.
Now, the camp, located on the Kingston Peninsula, won't open until July 10, and the postponed campers will have to be rebooked later in the season, provided there are openings available.
"We're hoping we can accommodate most of them," she said.
This is the first time COVID-19 cases have shut down a camp in the Saint John region, according to Boucher.
No guidance from province
Public Health did not provide any COVID operating or outbreak guidelines to camps this year.
But the Y called Public Health when the staff tested positive "just to make sure we had followed all the right steps," said Boucher.
"They told us … we're doing all the right things and they felt pretty confident with our protocols."
Any staff who leave the camp and haven't had COVID will now have to rapid test and be symptom-free before they return, she said.
Families are also being asked to test their children before dropping them off, "just to make sure that it doesn't get into camp and everybody can have a great experience this summer."
In addition, the camp is bringing masking "a little bit back more into the forefront" as an extra layer of protection and to help everyone feel comfortable, said Boucher.
All staff and campers were are already required to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
The camp has also maintained cabin "bubbles," distancing "when possible," and deep cleaning protocols that were in place for the past two summers because COVID is "obviously still alive and well in the community," said Boucher.
"We're expecting that we can have a great summer. … I mean, this isn't the start that we wanted for camp, but I know the team that we have out there is going to do a great job this summer, and we're going to have another summer like we did last year, which I know everybody appreciated," she said.
"We're just being a little more cautious, which I think is important."
Tim Carruthers, president of the New Brunswick Camping Association, said he hasn't heard of any other summer camps in the province with COVID cases.
But he noted most camps only opened this week.
"The summer is still young," he said.
Camps have seen huge demand this summer after two challenging years of reduced capacity and increased protective measures, said Carruthers.
Although they have received no guidance from Public Health, they're relying on lessons learned in 2021 and 2020 and "trying to role out safe practices that get the best of the summer camp experience while still making sure that we're aware that we're still working through all this as a province."
That means, for example, being diligent about monitoring campers for any symptoms of COVID, he said.
Some camp directors he has spoken to have rapid tests on hand.
"And like all of us, I think they're keeping an eye on what's happening in the province and making sure that they're gauging the risk of what they're doing as much as they can," he said.
Closures up to operators
Four New Brunswickers died from COVID-19 in the past week, hospitalizations because of the virus have increased, and the number of new positive cases has nearly doubled, figures released Tuesday by the province show.
Of the 1,915 new cases of COVID-19 reported between June 26 and July 2, 769 are in the Saint John region, Zone 2, which hosted the Memorial Cup major-junior hockey championship and 12 days of related events, starting June 16.
More provincial increases are likely, including the possibility of a new wave, Dr. Jennifer Russell, New Brunswick's chief medical officer of health, has said.
Asked about the lack of COVID guidance for summer camps, Russell replied, "Our recommendations really for all social gatherings remain the same."
The guidelines for deciding to close a camp because of a COVID outbreak would be the same as with other infectious diseases, such as norovirus, she said.
"I think each business establishment, whether it's a camp or a business, et cetera, they use their judgment about what they can do with respect to operation. So if they can operationalize with whatever staff and resources they have available, they have to make that decision."
Summer camps are supposed to contact Public Health whenever there's any group illness, and follow their directives, said Carruthers. "They are ultimately the experts on this," he said.
Camp Rotary, located on the shores of Grand Lake, near Fredericton, was proactive and submitted an operational plan to Public Health, said executive director Julia Latham.
"We're not health professionals and we don't have front-line information. So we felt that we had to get guidance from someone that had more information than we did and could make sure that we were doing everything we could to keep our campers safe," she said.
The camp, operated by Easter Seals New Brunswick, serves children and adults with disabilities, many of whom are at higher risk if they contract COVID than the general population, she said.
While New Brunswick was the only province that allowed summer camps to operate in 2020, Camp Rotary did not open. "There were too many unknowns. And we didn't feel we could do it safely," said Latham.
It did operate last year at about 80 per cent capacity, or roughly 320 campers throughout the summer, with no known cases of COVID.
This year, "we looked at the plan from last year and said, well, there are a few things that we don't have to implement, but, you know, these are things that we can [still] implement to make sure we're safe," said Latham.
For example, the camp is no longer taking the temperature of campers two or three times a day, she said. "It's a lot of work, and it takes away from providing the camp activities."
The camp is, however, still taking temperatures when campers arrive and asking them COVID screening questions. It has two-cabin bubbles, requires masking during group activities, has distancing measures in place, such as two lunch breaks so everybody isn't in the lunch hall at the same time, and has sanitizing stations set up.
When registration opened, there was a "bombardment of people," said Latham.
"I think the restrictions over the last couple of years have really worn on people. So I think they want their life back. They want that experience back of camp."
Vaccination not always required
Stephen Alward, executive director of Green Hill Lake Camp, hopes to see registration reach pre-COVID numbers.
"We're trending in the right direction," he said, noting the camp's capacity is about 750 children throughout the summer.
"The number one thing that we were contacted about [by parents] in the spring was whether their child had to be vaccinated to attend camp. And we said, no, it wasn't a requirement.
"And so that brought a lot of peace to a lot of parents, because while a lot of kids have been vaccinated, many haven't been," he said.
Staff are not required to be vaccinated either, but a survey suggests more than 98 per cent are, said Alward.
I think at some point we need to get back to living. And this is going to be with us for a long time.- Stephen Alward, Green Hill Lake Camp executive director
The camp has maintained some of its COVID measures from 2020 and 2021, such as frequent cleaning of common-touch areas, such as doorknobs and hand railings, a Plexiglas divider in the cafeteria between campers and servers, and cabin bubbles.
But masking is optional and no testing is currently being conducted.
"I think at some point we need to get back to living. And this is going to be with us for a long time," said Alward.
The camp does have a handful of rapid tests available, he said, but with a staff of between 40 and 50 people, "you could go through them, you know, in a heartbeat if you weren't careful."
Instead, if a child exhibits symptoms, an on-site volunteer nurse will assess whether the child should be sent home.
If a staff member has symptoms, "we would isolate them and make an assessment after 24 hours."
And if a staff member is a close contact of a positive case, they will be asked to monitor themselves for symptoms and wear a mask "if they're comfortable with that."
"We're just trying to be smart and do our due diligence," said Alward.
The children are "running, playing and singing and experiencing all the fun that summer camp has. But we're doing it in a safe way and being really careful with our cleaning and all that sort of thing, still maintaining distances between people and will continue to do that. And hopefully that will allow us to, you know, just to have a terrific summer."