For families across Quebec, the arrival of spring usually marks the time to register their children and teenagers for summer camp. However, at the present time, only day camps will be able to open their doors in June. In fact, the overnight sleep away camps have not been given the mandate to open, thus depriving thousands of young people of a unique experience in nature for a second consecutive summer. Given the disastrous consequences the pandemic measures have had on the physical and psychological health of children and adolescents, we believe that opening summer camps is more important now than ever.
Socialization and physical activity are essential for the proper physical and mental development during childhood. However, the impact of the pandemic has led to a worrisome increase in isolation, sedentariness, screen time, eating disorders and psychological distress.
For this reason, we feel it is appropriate to consider the many benefits that summer camps offer to children and teenagers. According to a study by the University of Waterloo, camps allow young people to develop their interpersonal skills, emotional intelligence, self-confidence and autonomy. It has also been shown that attending summer camp contributes to the adoption of healthy lifestyle habits, and campers are generally more inclined to participate in sports activities after their stay. Teenagers, now more than ever, need a job that gives them a sense of purpose and the opportunity to develop technology-free relationships. Summer camp meets all of these needs. Finally, camps give young people, especially those living in urban areas or from underprivileged backgrounds, a rare contact with nature.
Our leaders must realize that reopening summer camps has the potential to directly mitigate the most harmful effects of the pandemic on the health and wellbeing of our young people. However, it is imperative that the opening of overnight camps be conducted in a safe manner, taking into account all associated risks.
Fortunately, the epidemiological situation will evolve in the coming months towards a potentially more favourable context. The progression of vaccination of vulnerable people, combined with a predicted decrease in new cases during the summer period, are both positive factors. We also know that the virus causes minimal medical complications in children and young adults. Moreover, a study conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) among overnight camps who opened during the summer of 2020, gives us hope. The study findings showed that it is entirely possible to provide a safe camp environment when rigorous risk mitigation strategies are in place.
However, developing these measures is a complex process. They must be designed to prevent the introduction of the virus into the camps and to minimize the risk of internal outbreaks. It is therefore urgent that the Quebec government follow Ontario’s lead and clarify its intentions in order to give the camps the time they need to develop their sanitary protocols, redesign their facilities and train their staff.
After twelve months of the pandemic, we believe it is our duty as a society to offer our youth the summer they deserve, far from the anguish of the health crisis.