NORRISTOWN — Unvaccinated children looking to participate in camps this summer should be able to do so safely amid lingering impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to health officials.

Michel Masters, division director of communicable disease for the Montgomery County Office of Public Health, expressed confidence in this opportunity. The state’s third-most populous county has a positivity rate of less than 5 percent for 29 days, as well as 17 days with less than 50 cases per day.

“We really have a low amount of COVID in Montgomery County right now. We’re what the state calls moderate. To get to low we’d have to have less than 10 cases of COVID per day,” Masters said. “It just means the likelihood of somebody having COVID is very, very low.”

Masters said the county health department would continue to follow the issued guidelines of state and federal agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Pennsylvania Department of Health with respect to the ongoing public health crisis.

“As summer approaches, and more and more Pennsylvanians are getting vaccinated, we are all hoping to return to some sense of normalcy,” said Pennsylvania Department of Human Services Acting Secretary Meg Snead in a statement. “But this pandemic is not through yet, so I urge everybody to follow this guidance and continue working together to prevent further spread of COVID-19 between children and families so we can celebrate the summer safely.”

Both departments encourage children ages 2-to-12 years old, who are not yet eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, to continue practicing social distancing and wearing masks.

“For that age group that is still not vaccinated, masking is still being highly encouraged as we continue through this pandemic and continue to deal with COVID-19 as an infectious disease, and as a reportable infectious disease,” Masters said.

The state Department of Health issued a release recommending children in that age group “should wear a face-covering in public settings, at events and gatherings, and anywhere indoors when they will be around other people outside of their household.”

Those unable to do so were encouraged to participate in “low-risk activities.”

State health officials said children should also continue practicing other health and safety guidelines including washing their hands, covering their mouth and nose with a tissue and staying home if they are sick.

Masters added that the county health department issued its own similar guidance for residents for this summer’s activities concerning camps and in-person activities. Anyone with questions should contact a health representative at MontcoCOVIDRecreation@montcopa.org.

When following recommendations from the CDC, Masters emphasized a balancing act that takes place with having “mixed populations of kids that are vaccinated or unvaccinated.” She said county officials are “encouraging mask-wearing specifically indoors,” but “masking may not be necessary unless in a crowded environment” while participating outdoors.

“So a lot of our guidance focuses on indoors versus outdoors -- not necessarily recommended, but again a personal choice,” Masters said.

Masters urged parents thinking about enrolling their children in a summer program should reach out to the camp directly to get more information about policies.

Reactions from several area day camps showed a conservative approach as they prepare to open for the summer.

The North Penn Valley Boys & Girls Club is offering limited sessions across their three satellite facilities at the Indian Valley, North Penn and Wissahickon locations.

The camp will operate from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday from June 21 to Aug. 13, limited to 24 campers per site who are between 6- and 12-years-old, according to Cathy Shipp, director of operations.

Shipp added the nonprofit will be adopting the national organization’s “My Future” program, which focuses on digital literacy. Along with online courses, “arts and crafts” and “gym games” will be incorporated into the roughly four-week camp.

“We’re attempting to mix in fun and address summer learning loss at the same time,” Shipp said.

The summer camp will also have COVID-19 precautions built-in for safety purposes. Precautions include mask-wearing, social distancing and sanitizing protocols.

In Norristown, municipal Recreation Director Erica Genuardi is gearing up for summer camp. Up to 75 campers will attend the camp, which will take place from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday from June 21 to July 30 at the Norristown Recreation Center.

Genuardi expressed her excitement to organize a “summer camp curriculum,” complete with arts and crafts activities, zoo education with the nearby Elmwood Park Zoo and weekly field trips to see the Reading Fightin Phils and Da Vinci Science Center.

“We’re just excited to transition,” she said. “We’re excited to have our community engaged. We want to be there for the community.”

When asked about policies for unvaccinated children, Genuardi stressed that her department will follow protocols from the Municipal Administrator Crandall Jones and Wolf’s office.

With respect to wearing masks, Genuardi clarified that “this is a parent decision, not a camp, or a municipal decision by any means.”

She noted that camp staff have been vaccinated, and masks will be available to distribute for those who would like them.

Additionally, Genuardi said that she’s planning to incorporate social distancing when possible by adding an additional bus for field trips and when children are taking part in arts and crafts activities.

As the school year ends and temperatures climb, Masters expects children are looking forward to attending summer camp. She attributed this interest to a return to “normalcy,” along with “low COVID-19 case numbers” and the easement of a number of restrictions.

“I suspect that you will see more enrollment across the board and more engagement in these activities because there’s more confidence, there’s more vaccine available and we have a good vaccine rate in Montgomery County,” Masters said. “So I do expect it to be like it was pre-COVID, to be honest.”

For more information, visit www.montcopa.org/3746/Rec-League-Sports-and-Camp-Guidance.

@rachelravina on Twitter

Rachel Ravina is a journalist covering news and lifestyle features in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania. She grew up in Blue Bell and graduated from Penn State. She's also a news enthusiast who is passionate about covering topics people want to read.

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