LAMPE, Mo. - An overnight summer camp in rural southwestern Missouri has seen scores of campers, counselors and staff infected with the novel coronavirus, the local health department revealed this week, raising questions about the ability to keep kids safe during what is a rite of childhood for many.
Missouri is one of several states to report outbreaks at summer camps. The Kanakuk camp in Lampe, Missouri, ended up sending its teenage campers home. On July 3, the local health department announced 49 positive cases of the COVID-19 virus at the camp. By Monday, the number had jumped to 82.
Health officials from Stone County, where the camp is located, said they are working with camp officials to further investigate the outbreak.
“Stone County Health Department (SCHD) continues to further investigate the Covid-19 cases at Kanakuk K-2 camp in Lampe (Stone County),” the department wrote in a press release published on Facebook.
“At the time of this release 82 campers, counselors and staff have tested positive for Covid-19. All 82 positive cases were from the Kanakuk K-2 camp in Lampe. Many of these cases returned to their place of residence and then tested positive,” health officials added.
The Missouri summer camp outbreak comes amid a spike in confirmed coronavirus cases across the country as various businesses and schools, including other camp organizations, consider resuming operations.
Some states, like Oregon, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, shuttered summer camps this year, and many camps elsewhere have voluntarily canceled programs. But other camps are plowing ahead, hoping that precautions like social distancing, masks and requiring children to quarantine before coming to camp will quell the risk.
Other states where outbreaks have been reported have included Texas, Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee.
Some 26 million youths normally take part in camps across the U.S. each year, the American Camp Association said Tuesday. The group estimates 19.5 million young people will miss out on in-person day and overnight camps this year due to the pandemic, with 6.5 million still expected to go.
Missouri's outbreak at a camp operated by Christian-based Kanakuk Kamp has done little to change the way the state is handling summer camps, which essentially calls for camp operators to consult with their local public health agency to craft plans to keep kids and staff safe. Camps must report any positive cases to the state.
Dr. Randall Williams, director of the Missouri Department of Health, said Monday that his agency had no plans to shut down summer camps in the wake of the Missouri outbreak.
“We think school is incredibly important to kids. We also think camps are important,” Williams said.
In fact, the camp plans to reopen later this summer once test results from all staffers are returned and show it's safe to do so, Williams said.
In Texas, dozens of campers and staffers who attended Pine Cove’s Christian camps have tested positive, and several weeks of camp were canceled after clusters of cases were discovered. That includes at least 76 cases in June linked to its overnight camp for teens in Southeast Texas near Columbus. The Ridge camp shut down for two weeks in June before reopening last week, Pine Cove spokeswoman Susan Andreone said.
The organization's Silverado camp, also near Columbus, and two of its camps in East Texas also saw staff changes or interruptions after coronavirus cases. Despite that, Andreone said more than 8,500 people had been on their camp properties through last week, and most sessions haven’t been affected. Pine Cove has 10 overnight properties in Texas.
The spread came despite state requirements that include enforcing social distancing and banning outside visitors. As of last week, campers and staff must wear masks when social distancing isn't possible.
“Can we guarantee that someone is not going to get COVID? Absolutely not. But we also understand that parents really know their families best, they know what their particular circumstances are or any particular risks that they have within their family,” Andreone said.
Besides youth summer camps, campers in general have been forced to expect a new normal in the face of the coronavirus pandemic that does appear to be declining.
California’s Yosemite National Park announced on June 23, that it is reversing course two weeks after reopening and said it will hold off on reopening some campgrounds through July because of social distancing concerns in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak.
In parts of Utah, Republican Gov. Gary Herbert approved requests at the beginning of July for face covering mandates in several of the state’s famous national parks.
The Associated Press contributed to this story. This story was reported from Los Angeles.