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The CDC Majorly Updated Summer Camp Guidelines. Here’s What to Know

Outside, masks aren’t necessary.

The CDC just announced a major update to summer camp COVID guidelines. Previous guidelines had said that campers and staff had to wear masks at nearly all times, even if they were outdoors and even if they were vaccinated. But those rules have now been relaxed. In most situations, masks are not necessary outside. And camps with only vaccinated staff and campers don’t have to use masks or social distance.

“We’re going to start to see more and more adolescents fully vaccinated by mid-summer, so it is possible that camps could provide a camp experience for children who are fully vaccinated, and you could get back to the camp experience that was pre-pandemic: no masking, no distancing, and all the activities you would normally do,” Erin Sauber-Schatz, who leads the CDC task force for community interventions and critical populations, told the New York Times.

The updated camp guidelines are a natural follow-up to the CDC’s statement that vaccinated people do not need to wear masks in most scenarios — and to backlash against the agency’s treatment of COVID risks in outdoor settings. The CDC had stated that “less than 10 percent” of COVID transmission occurs outdoors. Actually, this number exaggerates the risk. Really, about 0.1 percent of transmission happens outside. The great outdoors is one of the safest places to be when trying to avoid COVID, which is why it’s safe for campers to run around outside maskless.

There are some scenarios in which unvaccinated people should keep their masks on outdoors, according to the CDC. They are:

  • In crowded outdoor settings.
  • When in prolonged close contact with other unvaccinated people.

Both of those recommendations leave room for interpretation. That’s because there isn’t a fine line to draw, Rochelle Walensky, the director of the CDC, told CNN.

Team sports are probably okay maskless, Walensky said. Mosh pits are not. Camps should be especially careful if they’re in an area with high transmission rates of COVID-19. Campers and staff who are immunocompromised should talk to their doctors about what precautions they should take.

Camps that require vaccination for entry, both for staff and children, may return to full capacity and don’t have to worry about masks or social distancing in most indoor and outdoor situations. However, the COVID vaccine is only available for children 12 and older, so this only applies to camps that serve older children. Younger kids will probably have to wait until the fall to get their vaccine.

“The reality is that the majority of camps are for kids six years old to 17, so a good portion of the kids attending camp, by virtue of their age alone, will not be vaccinated,” Tom Rosenberg, president and CEO of the American Camp Association, a nonprofit that accredits camps, told the Times. “So camps are preparing to manage another COVID summer with a layered mitigation strategy, like last year.”

Camps may choose to require masks if they wish, and they must follow local, state, and tribal mask mandates for their area. They should also affirm that anyone who wants to wear a mask is allowed to. Either way, kids should plan on playing this summer.