In Texas, summer camps can reopen but it’s still a mixed bag

For many kids around Texas, summer is a magical time. No school. No curfew. And time away from home at summer camp.

With COVID-19, that seemed poised to change. However, Texas is one of many states that will be allowing summer camps to open on May 31. The governor’s office provided a checklist for youth camp operators and staff. Abbott has put forth an aggressive timetable for reopening Texas. A few weeks after he announced summer camps could reopen, Abbott also gave the green light to water parks, food courts (with social distancing), and adult sports leagues.

Many summer camps previously announced their programs were canceled. Some are now scrambling to accommodate the new directive from the state. The CDC has a lengthy list of guidelines regarding youth and summer camps.

The recommended proposals from the CDC seem to contradict the very spirit of camping, particularly for overnight accommodations. However, a number of places around the state will be opening their doors to campers imminently.

Camp Mystic, located in Hunt, describes itself as a private Christian camp for girls. They list a number of activities on their website like golf, journalism, yoga, and war canoe on their 725-acre campus. Normally a 30-day session costs just over $4300. One of their most famous former counselors was Laura Bush.

Camp Mystic is planning to open for five 13-day terms starting July 1. Their website lists a number of changes for the camp including drive-by drop-offs, daily temperature checks, increased hand sanitizer, and deep cleanings between sessions. As a nondenominational Christian camp, Mystic normally has a packed Sunday devotional. Their website does not make it clear if that will continue given the worries over worship services.

Similarly, Camp Longhorn is expecting a delay of two weeks for its prospective campers. They have many of the same new protocols at Mystic. Their two-week term costs around $3600. Prior to COVID-19, their activities included canoeing, rock climbing, water skiing, and at certain locations horseback riding and sailing.

Mystic and Longhorn are two camps that are popular with many wealthier families in Texas. For a lot of these families, camps are something of a generational rite of passage. It would be a big deal for a summer to go by without any sessions, undoubtedly on the mind of Abbott and his Strike Force to Open Texas.

Even though camps can reopen in Texas, several large organizations are making rolling decisions, or staying virtual. The Girl Scouts of North Texas previously announced their summer camp session would be canceled. They note it’s possible some programs could resume in July though no determination has been made yet. Their website includes a number of online programs and events.

The Boy Scouts of America Longhorn Council, which serves scouts in North and Central Texas, is not going forward with summer resident camps at their three flagship properties, though they will have day camps opening later in the season.

On June 1, seven YMCA locations around North Texas will reopen. It is part of a phased reopening of the YMCA as they seek to follow state and CDC guidelines. As for their popular YMCA Camp on the Lake program, it appears to be on hold. “We are currently evaluating how we can best deliver our programs in a way that is safe and in accordance with CDC, state, and local guidelines.”

As youth camps around the state figure out moving forward in the midst of COVID-19, there’s no easy solution. Loneliness and isolation can take a huge toll on children. For low-income families, programs like YMCA camps can be a huge boon for a child: meeting new friends, learning new skills, or simply getting some exercise.

With more and more Republican leaders around the state pushing for a full reopening of the state, and some claiming we are living in an “abundance of fear,” perhaps these phased-in camps can be a blueprint for schools to reopen safely in the fall. This could be a productive opportunity to teach more children and adults about following guidelines from health professionals regarding social distancing and wearing a mask (unless you’re Chip Roy).   

Photo: Thomas Barwick/Getty Images

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