Berkshire summer camps await state guidance on opening

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HINSDALE — With Gov. Charlie Baker poised to outline plans for a phased-in reopening of the state in the coming days, businesses are eagerly anticipating guidance.

Among them are operators of Berkshire summer camps.

"We're planning for multiple scenarios," said Sue Lein, president of Camp Emerson in Hinsdale. "We have pages of questions on things we may consider doing differently."

While Baker announced on April 21 that schools will remain closed for the rest of the academic year to stem the spread of the coronavirus, the fate of summer camp is yet to be determined.

Recreational camps operate anytime between June 1 and Sept. 30, or during school vacations according to mass.gov. Recreational camps for children are licensed by the local board of health in the city or town where the camp is located.

The American Camp Association has created a 2020 summer guide, but currently features just a table of contents. Section headlines include Communication, Screening and Preventing COVID-19 infections, along with Cleaning and Disinfection.

"You can get an idea of what the plan is by reading that," said Mike Gilberg, the executive director at Kutsher's Sports Academy in Great Barrington. "Our plan is to review those guidelines and get guidance from the state. We expect to up the sanitation and there will be all sorts of things that are different, but our No. 1 priority is opening safely."

While the association can provide guidelines, each state is responsible for deciding if summer camps can open. Before a recreational camp can be licensed in Massachusetts, it must meet regulations established by the state Department of Public Health regarding safety, sanitary and housing standards to protect the well being of the children at the camps.

"My dream is for everyone to get tested; children and staff," Lein said. "Get in the gate, close it and isolate the way we have been doing in our home — testing is the key for everything."

Berkshire County's YMCAs run two camps throughout the summer. Camp Sumner in Pittsfield and Camp Abenaki in North Adams. While Camp Sumner operates at Berkshire Community College and Camp Abenaki at Windsor Lake, both will be held at each city's YMCA branch this year.

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"There will be summer programs providing care, just not our typical programs," said Jessica Rumlow, the CEO and executive director of the Berkshire Family YMCA. "We've been providing emergency child care already. We will continue with our guidelines from emergency care, like being 6 feet apart and increasing our sanitizing. We're waiting to hear more guidelines from Gov. Baker before we start to roll things out."

Based on Baker's anticipated guidance for reopening the state, people will soon be headed out to work and will need day care for their children.

"If parents are going to work, kids need to be occupied," Lein said. "We need camp more than ever but it needs to be safe and parents need to be comfortable.

"My dad is the founder of the camp and I am worried about the kids and our staff going to bring my home," she said. "Safety drives our thinking during the decision making process."

Some camps have decided that the health risk is too great and already canceled all in-person activities for 2020.

A release from Eisner Camp in Great Barrington reads, "While we have continued to plan, prepare, pray, and hope for another transformative summer at Eisner, the risks posed by COVID-19 threaten our most sacred value — the health and well-being of our children, staff, and faculty that attend camp."

The release stated that there are too many unknown risks for the camp to create an acceptable pathway forward this summer.

Some of the unknowns may come to light next week as more guidelines regarding the 2020 camp season are expected to be released.

"If we can open and create that environment and make a fun summer camp — that is fantastic," Gilberg said.

Jake Mendel can be reached at jmendel@berkshireeagle.com, at @JMendel94 on Twitter and 413-496-6252.


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