Camping with caution: How to prepare kids for safe summer fun

With most schools done for the summer, many parents might be looking to enroll their children in camps to keep them occupied during the warm-weather months.

But, with COVID-19 still around, other respiratory illnesses throwing themselves into the mix and traditional summer health threats — such as mosquitoes and ticks — as much an issue as ever, is camp a safe decision?

Most health experts said it is, as long as families take the proper precautions.

“I think, in many ways, getting children ready for camp this year is slowly getting back to getting children ready for camp prior to the pandemic,” said Dr. Tom Murray, associate medical director for infection prevention Yale New Haven children’s hospital.

Others echoed that sentiment, saying not only is Connecticut starting to return to pre-COVID times when it comes to signing up children for camp, but that enrolling them in these activities is a likely a good idea.

“We need children to come outside for their own mental health,” said Dr. Syed Z. Hussain, the medical director of urgent care and occupational medicine for Hartford Health Care’s Fairfield region.

But this doesn’t mean that families should throw all COVID precautions to the wind. Experts said there are a number of measures families need to take when preparing their children for camp this summer. Chief among these is making sure children are vaccinated before packing them off for summer fun.

“I think the number one thing folks can do to make sure their kids are safe is to make sure they’re up to date with all their COVID vaccine doses,” said Dr. Asha Shah, director of infectious disease at Stamford Hospital.

Vaccines are now available for all children six months and older, so experts said it’s a good idea to get them vaccinated if they haven’t already been. In addition, all children 5 and older are eligible for a booster dose of their vaccine.

“I think boosting is very important,” Murray said. “There is data that you have a much better chance of having only mild disease if you are boosted. I would encourage boosting.”

Other than vaccines, there are a few ways parents can make their camp-bound kids a little safer. All the experts said hand hygiene is more important than ever. “Make sure they have some hand sanitizer with them,” Hussain said.

As for mask-wearing, that’s a bit more complicated. “I think that depends a lot on the individual camp and how the kids are interacting,” Murray said.

Most doctors said masks aren’t necessary if the camp is largely outdoors and the child isn’t at high risk for severe illness from COVID. But parents should use their judgment, Hussain said.

“If you are in a very closed place where there are a lot of people packed together, a mask is always advisable,” he said.

Doctors pointed out that COVID isn’t the only illness that will be circulating this summer. Murray said there are multiple respiratory illnesses out there, so parents should caution their children to keep their distance from kids who are sick. He and Hussain also advised using bug spray to help protect children from mosquitoes and ticks, both of which can spread disease.

In general, most doctors recommended camping with caution over not camping at all. “Getting back to normal is important, especially for children,” Shah said. “I think kids should be provided as much normalcy as possible.”