Texas Gov. Greg Abbott announced the decision Monday, just a day after the state reported its largest single-day increase in COVID-19 cases. The move is part of Abbott's second phase of reopening, and will effectively allow both day and night summer programs, as well as youth sports, to resume at the end of the month.
"Let's be clear, COVID-19 still exists in Texas. Our goal is to find ways to coexist with COVID-19 as safely as possible," the Republican lawmaker said during a press conference Monday. "... On May 31st, other youth camps can open, including all summer camps and other daytime and overnight camps. This includes programs like scouting, Vacation Bible School camps, and 4H camps."
Under the order, summer camps will be required to implement precautionary measures to mitigate the potential spread of the virus. These include: daily health screenings for camp staff members, increased training for daily sanitization protocols, restricting travel among both campers and staff, prohibiting visitors from the camp (with exception to essential workers, like food delivery drivers), and ensuring access to on-site medical personnel or an on-call physician throughout the camp session.
Staff members who exhibit coronavirus symptoms will be required to isolate and should receive a coronavirus test. If the results come back positive, the staffer will be prohibited from returning to work until 72 hours after they've fully recovered.
"If the staff member has symptoms that could be COVID-19 and wants to return to work before completing the above self-isolation period, the individual must obtain a medical professional’s note clearing the individual for return based on a negative nucleic acid COVID19 test and an alternative diagnosis," the guidelines state.
If a camper begins showing coronavirus symptoms or tests positive for the virus, his/her parents must pick them up within eight hours. All guardians will be notified of any infection at the camp, and will have the option of picking up their child during the camp session.
Though the majority of children who contract COVID-19 show mild or zero symptoms, some camp directors have cautioned against reopening summer camps, citing the highly contagious nature of the virus.
"I feel like if they have a choice, then they really should choose to not gather children together during a pandemic," Joel Van Egbert, camp director at Colorado's Cal-Wood Education Center, told BuzzFeed. "It makes me worried for kids...but in all honesty, it makes me really nervous for the institution of summer camp. The last thing that I would ever want is for summer camp to be looked back on in history — or in the fall — as part of the reason that we have a second outbreak."
Camp director Steve Baskin, however, sees the situation differently and believes reopening camps would be beneficial to the children and their families.
"I see a group of kids who have had their lives disrupted. They’ve been separated from their friends and peer groups, and they're in households where adults are understandably as anxious as they've ever been," Baskin, the owner and director of Camp Champions in Marble Falls, Texas, said. "I think I can help parents who believe that the benefits to their children in camp is worth any anxiety or risk associated with this pandemic."
Other Texas operations that can resume under phase 2, include child care centers, bars, salons, gyms, bowling alleys, zoos, equestrian events, and skating rinks—all of which will be subjected to certain restrictions.