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Color War on Hiatus? 

Can camps afford to operate with social distancing rules?

Parents in the Tristate area have settled into their hectic schedules of Zoom meetings and phone classes, daily food pickups from an assortment of yeshivos, and settling a half dozen kids into their own quiet corner for an hour of “school.” Who knew the former usual routine could be so peaceful?

As summer approaches, parents can traditionally look forward to a tiny break from all the madness. But this year, the Year of the Coronavirus, will there be camp?

I didn’t have to go far to get an answer.

“Nobody knows anything at this point,” said Rabbi Chaim Donn, the father of this writer, who administers the registration for Camp Karlin Stolin in Highland, New York. “I’m continuing with registration, and everyone is preparing for opening day, because you can’t open a camp suddenly. We should have some more information in the next week or so.”

The obstacles facing camp managers are daunting. There is little hope that the social distancing requirements that have decimated communal life since Purim will be lifted, particularly for residents of New York City and Lakewood Township, two areas that have been hit hard by the virus. Best-case scenarios for camps include operating at a quarter of capacity along with the same overhead.

The Association of Jewish Camp Operators, which advocates for some four dozen camps in Sullivan County, penned a letter to county officials last week, requesting that camps open for at least the second half of the summer. The group outlined a number of safeguards it will take to ensure the safety and wellbeing of campers.

“Camps will be run differently this summer,” the group assured county leaders, listing the elimination of visiting day, counselors’ days off, and out-of-camp trips as incentives to approve the request. In case of a coronavirus outbreak, the association said it will instruct Hatzolah to transport any ill patients to Brooklyn in order not to overwhelm local hospitals.

The letter comes days after the county’s public health director, Nancy McGraw, recommended to local leaders that summer camps take a sabbatical this year. In addition, Monticello town supervisor Steve Vegliante has been working for over a month to circumvent Governor Andrew Cuomo’s order that would make it easier for camps to open.

One director said he suspects that 75 percent of the camps will stay shut.

“And any camp that does open will be operating at a loss,” the director said. “A bunkhouse that had twenty beds will now only be able to have five beds because of distancing. Which means that the camp will have a quarter of its capacity.”

Whoever thinks that camps are moneymakers doesn’t know how camps are run, the director added. “Very few camps make money. Do you know how much just the electricity bill is? About $100,000 for the summer. We can’t raise the fees, especially this year. This is an especially challenging year.”

(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 810)

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