CDC's Summer Camp COVID Advice Has Gray Areas

Unvaccinated kids should wear masks in crowded settings, such as singing around a campfire
By Bob Cronin,  Newser Staff
Posted May 28, 2021 2:25 PM CDT
CDC's Summer Camp COVID Advice Has Gray Areas
Wearing a mask when canoeing is a bad idea, a CDC official said.   (Getty/kongxinzhu)

Unvaccinated 11-year-olds are going to have to make some judgment calls at summer camp this year. The CDC issued its coronavirus guidance for summer camps on Friday, NBC reports, and the agency left wiggle room. As is true in other situations, fully vaccinated people are pretty well covered and don't have to wear masks. "Even though outdoors is really safe," the CDC said, there are scenarios in which campers who aren't fully vaccinated should wear a mask. The agency said that's true for "crowded outdoor settings or during activities that involve sustained close contact with other people who are not fully vaccinated." As is the case for adults in their world, it's not clear how campers would know who's fully vaccinated and who isn't. Age will be a clue: There is no COVID-19 vaccine approved for anyone younger than 12.

For indoor activities, the agency doesn't hedge: Every unvaccinated person over age 2 should wear a mask. For outdoor events, a CDC official gave examples of when to put a mask on, though the official policy doesn't get that specific. Erin Sauber-Schatz's guidance about when to wear a mask, which could be put into quiz form, includes:

  • Singing camp songs around the fire: Yes! Wear a mask. Singing or shouting can cause respiratory droplets to travel farther than they otherwise would.
  • Playing capture the flag: No! A mask isn't necessary. Players typically are safely dispersed across large areas outdoors.
  • Swimming or canoeing: No! The mask could get wet, making breathing difficult and the protection ineffective.
Or, given the uncertainty over who's had the shots, the CDC said camps might just want to require masks for everyone, per the Washington Post. "I think camps are going to need a little more support and information," said Dr. Richard Besser, a former acting director of the CDC. "If CDC can get more specific, it would be helpful." (The virus tore through a Wisconsin summer camp last year.)

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