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With schools closed, what about summer camp?

  • This image released by Forest Lake Camp shows campers boating and kayaking on the lake of the camp in Warrensburg, N.Y. Summer camps have begun to notify families that they won’t open due to the coronavirus crisis. Most, however, are in wait-and-see mode as parents who rely on camp for child care as well as child fun try not to panic. (Forest Lake Camp via AP)

Monitor staff
Published: 4/23/2020 11:23:31 AM

Just over the horizon for families after online learning is done for the year is the annual tradition of sending children to summer camp.

However, a virtual swim in the lake or a Zoom s’more doesn’t replace the camp experience if the state is still mostly shut down due to the coronavirus.

The governor’s committee tasked with re-opening the state discussed the need to provide guidance to summer camps, the Boys and Girls Club and other organizations that provide childcare in New Hampshire during their first meeting this week.

“Given the difficulty of enabling the workforce to return to various sectors across the economy without adequate childcare during the summer months, this demands special consideration and attention on our part,” D.J. Bettencourt, policy director for Gov. Chris Sununu, said during the committee’s inaugural meeting.

The need for childcare when planning the state’s reopening was echoed several times throughout the first meeting of the task force, which will hold hearings with representatives from industries like food service and accommodations, childcare, arts and construction in the next several weeks and create guidelines on how those industries can start offering services again.

“That’s a big deal right now, because a lot of families are looking to make deposits and seeing if summer camps are going to be in their future,” Sununu said.

Sununu said he hopes to make quick work with the committee as the end of the school year draws near. The task force is scheduled to meet daily during the next couple of weeks.

Sununu said many variables need to be considered when reopening industry in the state.

“We want to be very granular about how we do this. This is not a, ‘We’re going to open things and close things,’ it’s not a binary valve,” he said.

The guidelines for social distancing, sanitization and use of personal protective equipment will likely look different in different settings, the governor said. What might be acceptable in a restaurant might not be the same as what is acceptable behavior in a bowling alley, gym or hair salon, he said. Individuals who are over the age of 60 or have health conditions might be more conservative about the social activities they engage in than a younger individual without health conditions.

Regulations may be different in parts of the state that have been hit harder by the virus, such as Rockingham and Hillsborough counties.

“We aren’t just trying to ‘get back to normal.’ We are trying to define the new normal,” Sununu said.

The task force will use the White House Opening Up America guidelines as a roadmap, but tailor them to meet New Hampshire’s needs. The White House recommends that during the first phase of reopening, vulnerable individuals continue to shelter in place, that people avoid gatherings of more than 10 individuals and minimize non-essential travel. Schools and bars will remain closed, but gyms may reopen with strict sanitization guidelines. Hospitals will resume elective surgeries, among other recommendations.

Sununu said it will be important to stay in close contact with officials in neighboring states as officials make decisions about how to approach the next several months. Important to take into consideration is that New England has been especially hard hit by the virus, he said.

“Massachusetts has anywhere between 20 and 30 times the rate of infection that New Hampshire has, and that is literally a mile south and the virus really doesn’t understand borders,” he said.

Sununu said he has had discussions with governors in neighboring states about mirroring the pace and approach they take to reopen industry.

“We don’t have a pact, per say, that what we are going to do is what other states are going to do and vice versa, but we all agree that timing should be relatively the same for continuity of message, especially here in New England,” Sununu said.

The Division of Public Health will be ingrained in the reopening process. Sununu said health officials have warned of future surges, even if the numbers of cases start to lessen.

“This is not a surge where the numbers are going to plateau and then start coming down and then we’re going to be done with this,” Sununu said. “It is likely not that case. We are likely going to see yet another surge, if not later in the summer, in the fall, or next winter.

“That’s what the CDC has said and we need to be prepared for that,” he added. “That doesn’t mean we go back to clamping everything down just like we did before. What this committee is really tasked to do is not just give the guidance to start opening things up and get thing going in the next weeks or months, but also make sure it’s something that can be lasting so that if we do have another surge, we are prepared.”

The committee will be asked to answer several critical questions about each industry: how it will maintain social distancing, how to create continuous and frequent cleaning and disinfecting of shared spaces a priority, what the proper use and availability of protective equipment is in each industry, what the policies for high-risk populations will be going forward and how to publicly promote and market the new norms and guidelines.

The committee will meet by telephone from 3 to 5 p.m. each weekday. The first hearing on the food services and accommodation industry was scheduled for Thursday. On Friday, the committee planned to hear from the retail trade, manufacturing, recreation and arts industries. On Monday healthcare, social assistance and educational services are on the docket. Wholesale trade and construction industries will present on Tuesday. Other services, likely cosmetology, will present on Wednesday. Presentations for additional industries are scheduled for Thursday, April 30 and Friday, May 1.

The meetings are open to the public and time is set aside for public comment.

Members of the public can submit ideas and feedback to Minutes and an audio recording will also be available online.

“You guys have a lot of work ahead of you to be sure,” Sununu said to the committee.

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