Camp and Covid: A Painful Decision

June 1, 2020

Dear Friends:

With heavy hearts, we have made the painful decision to cancel camp this summer. As our neighbors closed their doors one by one, we held out hope that some new piece of information would come along that would allow us to open safely. Unfortunately, this hasn’t happened.  

We tried every possible angle to open. After hours upon hours of meetings with the leadership team, only on Sunday (yesterday) did it become clear that every single one of these meetings had the very same format: We identified dozens of potential negative outcomes and tried to determine an imperfect plan to prevent each one. Unfortunately, that can’t be how we approach camp.

Above all else, our promise to every one of you is to keep your kids safe. Our doctors and nurses, who are all parents with kids in camp, don’t think we can open without COVID getting in. Wayne Memorial Hospital, which serves us and all the Wayne County camps, asked us not to open. The rapid tests we were working on sourcing are not yet available to camps and will not be available by the time the season starts. Despite trying and trying, we simply do not see a safe path forward.

We know that this decision will be as painful for campers to hear as it was for us to make. We will do everything possible to support all of you during this difficult time. Our Director of Camper Care, Riva, is available to any camper who would benefit from help processing this sad news. We are also in the process of planning digital opportunities for bunkmates to connect and stay engaged with each other.  

In a few days, we will send a detailed email about tuition refunds and other options. In the meantime, our year-round team will be calling every single family (starting tomorrow); so you will receive a personal call from one of us very soon.

We are so very sorry that this is the outcome of our planning. We truly hoped that camp would open this summer and are devastated by this decision. All of us are looking towards a brighter 2021.

With sadness,

Lisa and Isaac

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

What are the reasons camp can’t open this summer?

We agonized over this decision and tried every possible angle to open, but it just didn’t work. Fundamentally, we were unable to reach a place of comfort regarding the safety of camp opening. We couldn’t find a way to make it safe for our campers, we couldn’t find a way to make is safe for the families kids would go home to, and we couldn’t find a way to make it safe for our staff. While that was the main factor in our decision, we also took the following considerations into account: 

  • Our camp doctors and nurses, who are all parents with kids in camp, didn’t think we could open safely.
  • Wayne Memorial Hospital, which serves us and all of the Wayne County camps, asked us not to open because they didn’t think we could open safely.
  • The only tests we can obtain would be taken at home many days before camp starts. If a camper gets infected after taking the test, we would have no way to know until it’s too late.
  • After combing through the CDC guidelines, we realized that we simply cannot comply with many of them. For example, the guidelines said that every camper has to live in the same county as the camp. That’s impossible for us.
  • The State of Pennsylvania is not currently allowing overnight camps in Wayne County to open, and we have no idea if or when that will change.
  • Every single one of our neighbors has decided that it’s not safe to open, and every one of our mentors and friends in the industry has decided to close this summer.

We wanted more than anything to open and kept hoping that more time would give us a better approach, but it simply hasn’t happened. We have not found a way to run camp safely.

 What will happen to our tuition?

During this challenging time, we will do everything possible to support our families. If you ask for a refund, we will absolutely give you a refund.

Instead of a refund, we would be very grateful if you considered taking a 105% tuition credit for 2021, making a donation to camp, or so some combination of both. Camp is a nonprofit organization with a limited budget, and we have lost about a million dollars preparing for the summer because we thought camp would open (and that’s after cutting nonessential expenses starting in March). 

We are giving a 105% tuition credit for 2021. In other words, you will receive 105% of any tuition dollars you paid this year to use next year (and next year’s rates are staying exactly the same as this year’s). If your plans change at any time between now and 2021, we would still give you a full refund with no questions asked. 

Also, please consider making a donation (pledge now). The UJA-Federation of New York will match it dollar for dollar. UJA has graciously made a $500,000 fund available to Camp Zeke, which reflects half our loss this year. But, we can only access that $500,000 by raising $500,000. We really need our families to help make that possible.

We will send an email in a few days with an online form that you can fill out to defer tuition to 2021, make a donation, obtain a refund, or some combination of those options.

Finally, please note that Rabbi David Gedzelman wrote an article about the question of camp tuition: jewishcamp.org/why-we-are-contributing-back-a-sizable-portion-of-what-we-paid-for-camp/.  

Why couldn’t camp be a “bubble” this summer?

The foundation of our planning was turning camp into a bubble. That was exactly our goal. The major problem is that the tests we needed to make that happen aren’t available yet and won’t be available by the time camp would open.

The only tests we can get would be taken at home days before camp starts. If a camper gets infected with COVID after taking the test, we would have no way to know until it’s too late and many other people in camp are already infected. We needed rapid tests that would be administered on opening day, but we are unable to obtain those tests in the numbers we need.

Aren’t kids mostly asymptomatic when they get COVID?

While some kids have very adverse outcomes from COVID, many others are “silent carriers.” This means that, without proper testing, it’s often impossible to identify when kids have COVID. This creates a dangerous situation for adults, who can contract COVID from a camper with no symptoms, and then suffer far worse outcomes from the virus than a camper would. If we had an outbreak at camp, we would potentially be sending home hundreds of silent carriers, which could create a very dangerous situation for families. We also have many vulnerable members of our camp staff who would be at significant risk from a COVID outbreak at camp.

Are other overnight camps opening?

At this point, the vast majority of overnight camps have closed. We were among the last to make the decision because we were holding out hope for more information that would allow us to open. All of our neighbors in Wayne County have closed. The vast majority of overnight camps in the Foundation for Jewish Camp network have closed. Moreover, we have historically turned to a small group of highly-trusted camp directors and camp owners for their guidance and mentorship in challenging circumstances. Every one of the people we trust most in the camp industry, and whose wisdom we seek in challenging times, has decided to close this summer.  

Will you offer digital programs?

Yes, absolutely. We are working on putting together a plan right now and will be sending out a survey soon to see what you would like us to implement in terms of digital options. At the very minimum, we will be creating opportunities for bunkmates to connect throughout the summer. We will have more information about this soon.

What happens next?

Starting tomorrow, our year-round team (Laurie, Elliot, Rachel, Joey, Riva, Lisa, and Isaac) will be calling every family to discuss this decision. In a few days, we will send out an online form that you can fill out to request a refund, make a donation, defer tuition to 2021, or some combination of those options. We will also send a survey about online programs soon.