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Summer Camps Offering In-Person and Virtual Options during Pandemic

COVID-19 has changed how we do most everything these days: how we socialize, go to work, go to school, and even how kids attend summer camp.

When the pandemic was brand new last summer, everyone was still figuring out how to engage in ‘old’ activities but in a safe manner. This year, many area summer day camps are operating fairly normal schedules but with some modifications for maximum safety—without sacrificing the fun.

The National Aviary will be offering two different styles of camp this year: one virtual and one in person. The in-person camp will occur in the Aviary’s new event space, The Garden Room, overlooking Allegheny Commons Park. “Large, bird-friendly glass windows and doors can allow for open-air access to the garden, or remain closed for year-round comfort, while always offering a connection to the park for an indoor/outdoor camp experience,” explained Sales Manager Kate Campbell.

Various safety measures at the Aviary will include implementing a touchless sign in/sign out process; hand sanitizing stations; daily health risk assessments for staff; required masks; and reducing camp capacity to allow for physical distancing.

“We will strive to adapt many aspects of past National Aviary summer camps that our campers have come to know and love in order to provide the best camp experience, while following enhanced safety protocols,” said Campbell.

New this year is a one-week virtual summer camp, modeling 2020’s successful virtual-style camp. “Through guided learning sessions, interactive activities, and virtual animal encounters, campers will explore the adaptations that make birds so extraordinary, all from the comfort of home,” explained Campbell.

Being outdoors is what Venture Outdoors is all about, and this summer will be no different; sessions will be held at both North Park and on the North Shore. In the past, the camp partnered with other Pittsburgh organizations to bring such outdoor activities to campers as kayaking, biking, hiking, geocaching and more.

“All camp sessions are limited to 15 campers and take place outside. All campers will be required to properly wear masks, maintain social distancing as much as possible, and complete a daily temperature check and health questionnaire,” said Kelly Sarkis, youth education and training coordinator. “All materials will be sanitized after each use, and campers will be washing or sanitizing hands more frequently and in-between activities.”

Last year, Venture Outdoors shifted to online programming, but that will not be the case for the upcoming summer. However, should camp have to close due to a case of COVID, Sarkis said there is a possibility for that shift.

Sweetwater Center for the Arts in Sewickley will hold summer camps at reduced capacity, with camps taking place both indoors and in outdoor spaces. In addition to following all safety guidelines set forth by the county and the CDC, Erin Cory, Sweetwater’s education and administration manager, said, “Given the nature of our camps, where feasible, supplies and materials will be provided in labeled bags/containers at the beginning of each camp, and supplies will remain on-site in designated areas. Instructors will organize supplies and materials to minimize sharing between students and classes. When sharing may be necessary, supplies will be disinfected between use.”

With a tagline of “All Sports, All Day, All Summer,” the Pittsburgh Indoor Sports Arena’s (PISA) focus is clear.

“Last summer, we were navigating this ‘new normal’ like everybody else,” said Jenna Plummer, marketing and events manager. “We eliminated parents coming into the building by doing drop-off outside, and we did temperature checks before the kids came in. At that time, the kids did not have to wear masks while playing sports, but they did have them on coming and going, and our staff had masks on the entire time.”

This year, the kids will wear masks due to new protocols. “We have to plan as everything stands right now. Obviously, we can change and adjust as we’re going,” Plummer added.

Like last year, PISA will have the kids eat lunch outside. Because the facility is so large, they do not have to limit their numbers but they did modify camp activities to encourage adequate social distancing. They will also wipe down equipment after use and between games and will no longer use pinnies (scrimmage vests).

Many of these camps did hold sessions last summer and will tweak this year’s camps based on last year’s results. “Among many lessons learned in 2020, one of the greatest take-aways was the need for clear communication to parents and guardians about our health and safety expectations prior to camper arrival, and the need to remind campers to wash hands often, wear a face covering at all times, maintain social distancing, and more,” said Cory.

“In our experience, with clear communication, everyone does their part to adhere to regulations because the alternative is to cease operating camps and classes,” she added. “We have found our patrons are invested in our mission, so we are all onboard with preventing that outcome.”

All camps will also advise parents to keep campers at home if they are showing symptoms of COVID-19, have tested positive for it, or have been exposed to someone who meets that criteria. “Families should avoid exposing themselves to other individuals outside of their pod to ensure quality, safe programming for all campers. Parents should continue to monitor the symptoms of their campers, themselves, and other children,” said Sarkis.

“We feel with effective and comprehensive communication with parents and guardians, we can assuage fears about COVID-19 transmission at Sweetwater,” added Cory. “We are excited to offer arts programming to as many as we safely can.”

Plummer said that last year’s camp went well, with parents trusting the camp to keep their kids safe, and they anticipate normal enrollment numbers this summer. “Our number one priority is our campers’ safety, so whatever we can do to maintain that is what will be done,” said Plummer.

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