First Coast Summer Camps Make Plans Following DeSantis Announcement

May 26, 2020

Summer camps across the First Coast are scrambling to figure out whether to open and how to do so safely.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has said he isn’t going to place any restrictions on youth activities this summer, leaving it up to local governments to decide if they want to add required guidelines for camps and youth activities.

Related: Gov. DeSantis’ Executive Order allowing youth activities

Dr. Mark Hudak with University of Florida College of Medicine - Jacksonville said Tuesday on First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross he views the governor’s Friday announcement with caution.

"The data show that children are just as likely to become infected as adults and older people. They are probably less likely to show symptoms," he said.

He said parents need to know that unless their children are consistently tested, they may not realize it if their child comes home with COVID-19, perhaps spreading the virus to others.

Without a state mandate, that means its up to the city to figure out whether camps or other organized youth activities will be required to do any testing.

Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry said Friday his team is working on a plan, but at the time of this story’s publication no details had been announced.

Curry said on Friday, “Let’s deal with facts. It’s not just dealing with fear and what national media says is going to happen, doom and gloom. We have to let kids be kids.”

Hudak said he hopes camps will take appropriate measures to minimize the chances of an infection. He says those measures include keeping kids and staff far apart, reporting any symptoms of infection to parents, and limiting access by camp suppliers. He’s also hoping testing will be required.

One of the people dealing firsthand with how to handle youth activities this summer is Jessica Morgan with the Jacksonville Mom blog. She’s also the activities and aquatics director at the Jacksonville Golf & Country Club.

Morgan said on First Coast Connect with Melissa Ross she’s done approximately 20 revisions of the Jacksonville Golf & Country Club's summer camp packet. Kids in the aquatics program will be required to have their temperature taken with forehead thermometers every day. Campers will also be set up in pods of 10 or fewer children.

Related: Listen to the full interviews with Hudak and Morgan

She said the CDC has an easy-to-follow graphic for youth programs and camps, which has been helpful.

“We’ve been following that, along with the American Camp Association’s good, better and best practices for activities this summer,” she said.

Morgan said her camps are planning to start June 15, but she's also keeping an asterisk on that date so parents realize in the age of COVID-19 that things are subject to change.

Some youth activity organizers have already canceled their summer programs, others are turning their programs into virtual-only experiences, and others still are going to “just wait and see.”

Related: Local, State, And National Coronavirus Coverage

For parents still trying to figure out how and whether to send their kids to a camp this summer, she recommends having a “very honest” conversation with the camp activities director.

“What protocols are in place? Ask your children when they come home from camp, ‘Did you wash your hands today? Was there any hugging today?’” she suggests.

She also said she would be more likely to recommend an outdoor camp over an indoor one this summer.

A Summer Camp Guide is on the Jacksonville Mom website.

Bill Bortzfield can be reached at bbortzfield@wjct.org or on Twitter at @BortzInJax.