Summer camps for Seattle kids in limbo because of coronavirus
An Elaine Woodhouse art camp last summer was a hit with these kids. Whether or not they'll be able to go this summer remains up in the air.
Photo: Jillian O'Connor
UPDATE, May 21: YMCA of Greater Seattle just announced that its planned June and July kids' camps at Camp Colman and Camp Orkila will be switched to family programs. The Y said it's hoping to resume kid-only programs in August, but that isn't certain yet.
Due to the COVID-19 crisis, no one really knows what will happen this fall, or even this summer. Will summer camps be able to return to business as usual? Will kids get a chance to create summertime memories with new friends, or will it all be done onscreen -- if camps can create a way to do that?
In response to the urgent need for social distancing, a few local organizations have already called off their summer camp sessions, namely Girl Scouts of Western Washington and the Woodland Park Zoo.
Other providers are still weighing the options -- and awaiting what the health authorities and governor’s office will decide is the safest way to proceed.
"It's kind of up in the air," said Coach Stu Michie, the Pacific Northwest regional director of One on One Basketball. "I'm in an interesting situation."
Todd McKinlay of Hidden Valley Camp reported: "We are currently holding out hope that camp can go on as scheduled. Of course, this could change as more information is coming in every minute. The CDC is supposed to come out soon - maybe in the next day or so - with guidelines/recommendations for camps. We will base final decisions on advice from local and national health authorities, the American Camp Association, and of course whether we think we can run a safe program."
Seattle Parks and Recreation recently shifted its camp registration period from early April to May 12, and Michie, who offers camps and after-school sessions at Parks Department facilities, has been following suit with signups.
Michie isn’t hopeful that something like basketball, where players are “sticking to someone like glue and covering them,” can really work in a social-distancing format. He foresees sports like golf or tennis or activities like cooking or carpentry or art working out with some social distancing, but just doesn’t think it can happen easily with basketball camps and classes.
“I don't know how they're going to look until there's a vaccine, and kids are able to really compete and go face to face,” said Michie.
Michie already has been offering video workout sessions via email or on the One on One website that can be done inside the house or right outside.
Michie is investigating ways to translate sports like basketball to an online camp format, and has taught some private classes online since the COVID-19 shutdown, but points out that it can be tough for the young players to get reliable Wi-Fi in their yards.
“We have offered summer camps for several years at Bryant Elementary School, and this year was the most popular, with all three of our weeks almost full,” said Woodhouse. “We now face the prospect of reimbursing parents if the camps cannot proceed.”
“Safety, however, is -- and must always be -- our first priority,” she added.
To make up for the recent shutdown, she has just begun offering online classes teaching her unique brand of recycling-based art, which now includes a Minecraft-inspired class as well as Artist Trading Cards, in which kids create their own tiny artworks (somewhat similar to kid-created Pokemon cards).
Many camps start their signups early, often beginning in January. Seattle parent Rebecca Hernandez mentioned that she paid for her two daughters’ camps early before coronavirus quarantining began because popular day sessions so often sell out.
“I've heard from many of the camps that they are just waiting to see if they can even hold them,” said Hernandez. “We're just keeping our fingers crossed that they can at least go to those camps,” she said.
“Maybe it'll be modified somehow -- less kids or something.”
What about swimming?
“The outlook is that we are trying our best to provide camp safely this summer,” said Jennifer Paull, executive director of Safe N Sound, which offers swimming and adventure camps in Seattle, as well as year-round swimming lessons and training. “We're really waiting for those guidelines to come out from the CDC and King County Health, but we know that we're going to have reduced group sizes.”
“We know we're going to have to have some physical distancing,” and that includes masks for activities not in the pool, said Paull.
Meanwhile, Camp Fire is accepting registrations for its camps throughout Seattle -- and has also been looking for parent input on surveys to learn what might be of interest while concern about COVID-19 is running so high.
“The reality is that we are probably still a couple of weeks away from being able to make any decisions about summer programs,” said Rick Taylor, executive director of Camp Fire Central Puget Sound. “We are all waiting on state and local officials to have enough information to further lay out what the reopening of our state will look like.”
At Stone Soup Theatre, which usually runs summer camps at Jefferson Park in Beacon Hill and in Meridian Park in North Seattle, there has already been a test run of virtual theater classes -- during spring break -- and the group is considering putting its day camp format online if health agencies determine the show should not go on at city parks this summer.
“We're obviously keeping a close eye on the news and social distancing guidelines, and making plans to move online in the event that we don't get allowed into the park,” said Jeremy Ehrlich, education director of Stone Soup Theatre. “If we still have to socially distance, we’re going to have to move online,” said Ehrlich, who noted it would be quite difficult to offer a theater camp experience in person -- with acting and interaction and play -- and keep all the kids apart, too.
The Pacific Science Center, which operates halfday and daylong camps each summer, is still hoping to be open for business and is taking signups.
“Yes, we are still accepting registrations because we are hearing from many families that they are very eager to send kids to camp,” said Danielle Cobb, marketing communications manager at Pacific Science Center.
“We are seeking to keep as many options open as long as possible. We are evaluating a wide range of in-person, virtual, and hybrid camp formats."
The Greater Seattle YMCA is accepting registration for day camp, as well as for the overnight camps Orkila and Colman, on its website.
“Luckily, we have already done a lot of first-person learning on how to care for children safely at our break camps for the children of essential workers that will help us in summer camps,” said Gwen Ichinose-Bagley, chief youth development officer.
“While there may be some virtual components to our camp lineup this summer, we think kids and families will need in-person camp more than ever this summer to overcome social isolation, to give parents a break, and to let kids be kids,” she added.
Meanwhile, state health experts are watching the situation and weighing what might be allowable during this health crisis.
“Moving forward, the Governor’s Office and the Washington State Department of Commerce will convene specific industry stakeholder groups, including one specific to summer camps and outdoor recreation,” said Cory Portner of the Washington state Department of Health.
“They will develop plans to provide enforceable safety guidelines,” Portner added. Many factors will have to be considered, including testing capacity, the availability of contact tracing, and the number of hospital and ICU beds available, as well as having a much lower number of COVID-19 cases than the state has now.
“Health experts and data will continue to guide when restrictions can be lifted responsibly,” Portner said.
Jillian O'Connor is a Seattle freelance writer and mother of two boys.