Free Daily Headlines


Set your text size: A A A

'Special Summer' success: Camps report no Covid cases

Camp Pinnacle was among a handful of summer camps that held camp sessions and reported no Covid-19 cases. Camp Pinnacle was among a handful of summer camps that held camp sessions and reported no Covid-19 cases.

Four months ago, when summer camps should have been making final preparations to open for the season, Camp Pinnacle owner John Dockendorf lamented the “gut wrenching, no-win decision” youth camps faced: Dramatically change the way they operate and open with a limited number of campers or shut the doors for the season, knowing that kids cooped up in Covid-19 lockdowns would miss the liberating experience of a summer camp session outdoors.


After much soul-searching — and even more meetings and tutorials with public health and infectious disease experts — Dockendorf joined a handful of other summer camps that decided to open.
It wasn’t long before he heard a comment that confirmed he had made the right decision.
“The kids were overwhelmingly excited when they stepped on camp,” he said. “My favorite quote from a camper, ‘Thank you. I’ve had more fun in the first three hours than I have so far all summer long.’”
Henderson County’s summer camp industry looked much different this summer. It was far smaller than usual, with only a few camps opening at all. Camps that decided to open up include Camp Wayfarer, Camp Pinnacle and Blue Star Camp. Most camps chose to shorten the camp season — generally to five weeks instead of a full summer. Each director worked hard to be sure procedures permitted no illness on campsite. The efforts ended with a stunning outcome: No cases of Covid-19 were reported in any of the camps. In fact, because of the social distancing, intense cleaning regimens and other precautions, Camp Pinnacle was the healthiest it has ever been, Dockendorf said. The typical ailments — common cold, flu, stomach bugs — were more rare than usual.

Nancy and Jim Bob Wilson of Camp Wayfarer reported that only two campers showed minor symptoms for Covid and both tested negative. The campers were restored back to camp activities after 24 hours fever-free.
Safety procedures were similar across the board for each camp. Each camp director followed CDC and American Camping Association guidelines when conducting day-to-day procedures. Camp Pinnacle created “families” consisting of 10 campers and two counselors in which masks were not required. The family lived in one cabin and did all activities together. Symptom screenings were practiced each day and they set aside designated quarantine centers in case they were needed. At every activity center, cafeteria and cabin, hand sanitizing stations offered campers a chance to keep germs away at all times, while the campers washed their hands at least 20 times per day, Dockendorf said.
At Camp Wayfarer, the Wilsons maintained a “closed/bubble community” to keep campers and staff as safe as possible.
The Wilsons say that every camper and camp counselor was ecstatic to be outside doing their favorite things together.
Both Camp Pinnacle and Wayfarer adopted similar procedures regarding group contact. At Camp Pinnacle, 95 percent of activities are outdoors, making distancing and fresh air the allies of health safety. Camp Wayfarer had campers travel and participate as “villages.” The number of groups at activities was limited to maintain safety measures. Camp counselors were required to quarantine before arriving at camp and had to remain at camp for the whole season. Few staff members decided to opt out of working this season. At Camp Wayfarer, only four counselors opted not to return, all because of underlying health conditions.
“We hired more staff this summer than ever before to make sure Covid compliance and coverage was the best it could be,” Wilson said — “more kitchen staff to have appropriate number of servers etc. Best staff ever — committed, compliant and thrilled to be a part of our special summer.” This year’s theme at Camp Wayfarer, “Special Summer,” could have been the tagline for each camp in Henderson County that opened.
Positive attitudes prevailed. From camp directors to the campers themselves, everyone was excited to get back to the outdoors. Instead of focusing on what was lost in the face of Covid, camp directors, counselors and campers relished the fact that the season could still happen. Campers especially were extremely grateful for the ability to be back at camp.
“Everyone was simply grateful,” Nancy Wilson said. “Grateful to be outside, grateful to be with their camp friends, grateful to be away from home/independent from their parents, grateful to make new friends, grateful to be physically active, grateful to try new things, grateful in every way.” She even made the point that there were zero cases of “homesickness!”
Dockendorf also found that the kids at his camp experienced a boost in spirits after weeks of staring at the walls and laptop screens.
“These kids’ mental health is a big sacrifice being made during Covid,” he said. “Summer camp was just what they needed.”