City of Toronto cancels city-run summer camps amid COVID-19, planning possible alternative
Refunds to be issued in coming weeks, mayor says
The City of Toronto has cancelled all city-run summer camps and recreation programs, the mayor says. Refunds will be issued in the coming weeks.
News of the cancellations comes as the city also extended the cancellation of permits for a host of summer festivals including the Taste of the Danforth, the Honda Indy and the Beaches International Jazz Festival among others.
Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. David Williams said earlier that recommendations on summer camps would be coming "fairly soon ... in time to make decisions around the summer."
City officials say they are working on a possible alternative that would serve about half as many children as usual — with about 5,300 camp spaces for children ages of six to 12 — and would depend on both on the province lifting current orders and on the recommendations of Toronto Public Health.
The alternative model, dubbed CampTO, would incorporate public-health measures, including physical distancing, small group sizes, daily health assessments and extensive cleaning measures, the city said in a release Friday afternoon. If allowed to proceed, it could start as early as mid-July.
"Nothing is more important than the health of our children. In our current environment where it hasn't yet been safe to have the schools open, we can hardly be going full steam ahead with summer camps, though we are going to have a more modest CampTO plan ready if things continue to improve," Tory said.
WATCH | John Tory announces the cancellation of all city-run summer camps:
An existing provincial order prevents gatherings of more than five people. That order would need to be updated or modified before the city could launch any alternative, or for private summer camps to operate.
The city says about 68,000 participants were registered for city-run summer camps at 197 locations from June 29 to Sept. 7. The cancellations will affect about 1,500 part-time recreation workers.
Mayor John Tory hinted earlier Friday that families should prepare for some disappointment this year when it came to summer camps.
Tory said previously said the city would be making a final decision about its lineup of camp offerings amid the COVID-19 pandemic by Friday. Speaking to CBC's Metro Morning before the official announcement became public, Tory said that things will be different this summer.
"It's one of those things we are working on and I guess what we'll be announcing today, because we're still working on it, is to say, 'Well, in the very short term, there likely won't be some of the camps that people expect'," he told guest host Jill Dempsey.
"But we are still working really hard to see if we can kind of put something together for later that will take account of the particular requirements of our time, which has to place public health — especially when it comes to children and staff — it has to place public health first."
The mayor said he was hopeful city staff would be able to develop "another model" that involves more staff to ensure kids are staying safe at camp, but admitted it won't be easy.
"Trying to keep six-year-old kids physically distanced from each other … is a pretty difficult task. At the best of times you can't even get them to go to bed at night."
According to the city's website, Toronto usually offers several outdoor camps that give kids the opportunity to explore nature within the boundaries of the city.
These day camps include activities like archery, orienteering, outdoor cooking, swimming, crafts and hiking.