Summer camps opening registration, still adjusting to COVID-19 measures despite vaccine rollout

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TRI-CITIES, Tenn. (WJHL) – While winter is still very present across the Tri-Cities, it’s already time to start thinking about summer programs.

This time of the year is typically when most organizations open registration for their summer programs, but the pandemic has changed the way many things operate including summer camps.

Last year as the pandemic picked up across the nation, organizations hosting summer programs were forced to either shut down operations or alter them so children could safely attend. While a vaccine is currently being rolled out to the public, the virus is still, unfortunately, very present in the community.

Due to this, summer programs such as the one held at Bays Mountain in Kingsport are at a standstill in terms of planning.

“We’re just kind of in limbo right now. We want to have it and we know the cases are sort of dropping now so we’ll just keep an eye on that. It’s really a decision that it’s too early. We want to do it but also want it to be safe,” said Bays Mountain Recreation Coordinator, Mark Kilgore.

Kilgore said they did not have a program last year, which was upsetting to both staff and potential campers. Usually, their programs consist of barge rides, ziplining, animal programs, crafts, hikes, and animal identification.

With 3,000 acres available to them in the park, social distancing activities would be fairly easy. However, at the end of the day, they’re waiting to be advised by local health leaders.

If they can host the camp, Kilgore said they will most likely take a lower number of children as opposed to their regular 30.

Other programs are full steam ahead when it comes to their summer camp programs. The YMCA of Bristol plans to hold their regular summer program but of course with COVID-19 safety alterations.

Bristol YMCA Membership Experience Director, Tiffany Scardo, told News Channel 11’s Kelly Grosfield that last year they were able to hold a summer program that provided child care for essential workers in Tennessee after receiving a grant from the state.

Scardo said they were also able to hold a typical summer camp program in addition to that when some state and local restrictions were lifted.

Holding this program means a great deal to Scardo, especially after the year these kids have had.

“Kids need to be able to socialize. They need to be able to socialize with other children and they need to be able to have a daily schedule, a daily routine,” she said.

She said registration will open on Monday, February 22nd, and the camp will be similar to structures they’ve had in the past with the implementation of mask-wearing, social distancing, and constant sanitization like they had last summer.

With protocols in place, she said they also plan to partner with organizations in the community to host COVID safe field trips so the kids have somewhat of a normal summer experience once again.

Scardo said once registration opens, spots will be limited due to COVID, and they accept any child from five to 12 years old.

While it won’t be a physical field trip, the staff at the Boys and Girls Club of Johnson City and Washington County have big plans for their summer program.

“We’re still trying to incorporate some of our rotations and get back into the swing of normalcy. We’re going to take a virtual road trip where we travel the country virtually,” said Robin Crumley, President & CEO of Boys and Girls Club of Johnson City and Washington County.

While the Boys and Girls Club is opening for summer, Crumley said they’re still finalizing how many kids they can take. She said they’re looking to take on 200 or more as long as their facility can accommodate it with proper social distancing.

Tables are spaced and sanitizing stations are placed throughout the building. Crumley said all of her staff is also signed up for the vaccine, seeing as child care workers fall into the next phase with teachers in Washington County.

Crumley said they also used money from the CARES Act to clean out the air ducts and bring in UV lights for extra sanitization. She ensures their program will be as safe as possible for the kids. Registration starts next week.

Staff at Doe River Gorge are also planning to move forward with their full schedule of summer camps.

They’re currently taking registration with a little over 500 kids already registered since most transferred their registration from last year. The director of the program said they plan on taking about 1,200 kids, while the standard amount they take is normally between 1,100 and 1,400

They will have their leadership programs going on as well as the standard one-week sleepaway camps, and their Dayquest program on Saturdays open to families and groups.

Officials with Doe River Gorge said they did not have any regular sleep away camps last year but they’re planning to this year. They’ve been in communication with a medical professional for guidance on opening and even worked with him last summer to initiate more safety protocols.

Nikki Hughes, the Executive Director of Girls Inc. said she went through this same thing last year and she knows the importance of holding a summer program.

“They didn’t care about not going anywhere and they didn’t care about the new restrictions. All they cared about is that they were with their friends,” she said.

They have a parent drop-off with temperature taken throughout the day and sanitizer distributed before entering the building. They’ve also closed down community shared spaces in the facility as well as other safety adjustments in each of the rooms.

Hughes said they want to provide a safe place for parents to send their kids, and they believe that’s Girls Inc.

Registration is now open with a maximum sign up of 100 girls.

If you’re looking to send your child to summer camp, now is the time to start weighing your options since limited spaces are still being offered this year under the pandemic.

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