Update on May 17, 2021
There was a flurry of news and changes last week in regards to the pandemic and guidelines. These changes are happening at the national level as well as the state level. Here are new developments and some thoughts about what these could mean for camp.
– The CDC announced that fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing. Note that this announcement does not supersede state or county regulations or the current guidance from the Governor regarding camps. Currently, San Juan County still requires individuals to wear masks indoors in businesses.
– An independent panel of advisers to the CDC voted to recommend the Pfizer vaccine for use in children ages 12 to15. Consequently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the Pfizer vaccine for this age group. (Note that the vaccine will likely be authorized for children aged 2 to 11 in September.)
– The Governor’s office announced that Washington State plans a statewide reopening date of June 30th. Reopening can happen before June 30th if 70% of Washingtonians over the age of 16 initiate vaccination. We are currently at 56%.
Let me start by saying that CIFC (and all residential camps in Washington State) must still follow the guidelines that the Governor’s office released for camps at the end of March. This means that for the moment, the handbook we published in early May still contains the guidelines CIFC must follow.
It is reasonable to expect that the Governor’s office may update their guidelines for summer camps, both in light of the improving transmission rates, the reopening of the state, and the vaccination rates in children. We do not yet have an idea of how the revised guidelines may look – whether vaccinated campers will have additional liberties, whether we can relax masking requirements, or other changes.
The Washington State Coalition of Camps is meeting with state representatives to urge the Governor’s office to provide clear guidelines to Washington summer camps as soon as possible. If/when we receive new guidelines for camp, I will reach out to all parents to communicate any changes. We thank you for your patience as we all await this news.
Many parents have written to let me know their child is vaccinated or will soon be vaccinated. This is fantastic, exciting news – it truly feels like the forecast for this summer looks better by the day. Some of you have asked about providing documentation of your camper’s vaccination. I will be setting up an online portal to upload this document. I appreciate the work and consideration all our French Camp families are putting into making this summer safe and successful. CIFC urges families to pursue the vaccination for your child, both for their sake as well as the sake of your communities.
While we wait for additional news from the state, Ben and I are carrying on preparations for opening the facility and finally welcoming campers back to Canoe Island. We want to thank all our parents for your patience, support, and enthusiasm. Ben and I have been humbled and touched by families’ kindness as we navigate this tough year and find ways of doing things we’ve never done. Camp is just around the corner and we could not be more excited to have your kids with us on the island.
Update on May 7, 2021
Please find here our COVID-19 Handbook for the summer. This document contains detailed information about the protocols we will have in place to address the threat of COVID-19 in the camp community this summer. The general expectations we have been communicating since January remain roughly the same – masking, quarantining before camp, travel modifications etc.
It is possible that our handbook may change before camp starts, both due to experts issuing new guidance or the states issuing new guidelines. The state or the county entering Phase 4 of “reopening” would presumably impact the state’s guidance for summer camps. The state has not yet released information on what guidelines might look like in Phase 4, although we presume we might see a loosening of restrictions. If this happens, we will adjust accordingly and communicate any changes with French Camp families.
We ask all families and staff to thoroughly read the document. We additionally want to highlight certain things right now and answer some questions we anticipate families may have.
Pre-Camp Isolation Period
We request that all campers and staff observe what we’re calling “risk limiting period” for the two weeks prior to camp. Note that this is not a quarantine. During this two-week period, we ask campers to be masked, outdoors, and six feet apart if they are socializing with people outside their household. We also ask campers and their families to refrain from high-risk activities such as eating indoors at a restaurant, attending large gatherings, or playing contact sports. We ask that both vaccinated and unvaccinated campers adhere to this risk limiting period.
Campers must additionally receive a negative PCR test three days before camp, unless the camper will be fully vaccinated before coming to camp. Between receiving this test and traveling to camp, campers must adhere to a true quarantine, seeing no one outside their household. Vaccinated campers may skip the PCR test and strict three-day quarantine but, again, they must participate in only low-risk activities in the run-up to camp.
Please read the handbook for full details.
Update on March 29, 2021
Last week, Governor Inslee’s office released the long-anticipated guidance to allow overnight camps to operate in Washington State this summer. This is fantastic news for CIFC! This is the “green light” we’ve been waiting for. The guidelines allow camp to run in Phase 3, and Washington State entered Phase 3 on Monday, March 22nd. If you’d like to read the document that the Governor’s office released, please see this link (page 6 and onwards in the document).
Ben and Margaret are working to apply the guidelines to CIFC’s facility and program to create CIFC’s unique COVID handbook. All registered families will receive this handbook when it is finalized; the protocol in our handbook will be very close to the guidelines we’ve been describing in email correspondence to registered families. We ask for your patience as we work on this document. If you have specific questions, you can reach out at any time via email or phone (360.468.2329).
The spring rains have made Canoe Island especially green and lush. During this beautiful weather, it’s easy to imagine campers back on Canoe. We’re counting the days.
Margaret and Ben
Update on March 19, 2021
Ben and Margaret feel more and more optimistic by the day for a smooth and happy summer. I am sure that many of you, hearing the same encouraging news about vaccines, falling transmission rates, and all-around positive forecasts for the summer, share our anticipation for the good things to come. San Juan County currently has zero cases.
We have received word from the Governor’s office that they will soon be releasing guidance for residential summer camps to operate this summer. This is a very encouraging sign! We are hoping to receive this guidance by early April. Once we have this information, we will be able to provide families with more concrete details on CIFC’s safety protocols (after bringing them into alignment with the state’s guidance), including isolation and testing pre-camp, expectations for masking, and other details. While we await guidance from the state, we are writing our COVID handbook, preparing facility changes, and taking all the steps we normally take to run camp such as hiring our amazing team.
If you have any concerns or questions about camp during this unusual summer, please pick up phone at any time to speak to me or Ben directly – 360.468.2329. Although I may not have firm answers until we receive the state guidance, I am happy to share my best guesses and all our thinking at this point.
Please note that Ben and I will be holding a pre-camp Q and A via Zoom for all camp families who want to attend. This event will take place in May and I will announce details in April.
As we start to see beautiful weather on Canoe Island and our summer staff takes shape, French Camp this summer feels imminent and real. We’re working hard to make camp possible this year and we’re counting the days until campers arrive on the dock.
Margaret et Ben
Update on January 15, 2021
Although it’s only January, to those of us on CIFC’s staff, camp feels right around the corner, and we know many families are also planning for the future. We imagine that parents and children alike are looking forward to French Camp as a glimmer of normalcy and freedom in an otherwise very difficult year. We want to communicate several important points:
- CIFC is planning to operate in 2021 and your child is currently registered to attend.
- We believe that the virus will remain a threat this summer and we will be incorporating non-pharmaceutical interventions and risk mitigation strategies to ensure a safe environment and healthy camp population.
- We are developing safety protocols for operating and want to let you know some of the ways camp will look different this summer.
It is important to us that parents understand our current thought process and what we are planning and expecting for 2021. Please reach out if you have questions or concerns ASAP so we can begin to address them.
Many parents will ask why we plan to operate in 2021 after closing the facility in 2020, given that the broad circumstances of the pandemic have not changed. The virus will still be a danger this summer, and we do not believe that 100% of our camp community will have had the opportunity to receive the vaccine by the start of camp. As an as are expecting our counselor staff and all support staff who are on Canoe Island for the entire summer to be vaccinated. In 2020, mandates from the state and local government forced us to cancel programming. We hope and expect that we will receive permission from the health department to operate in 2021. CIFC is part of a coalition of summer camps working with the Washington government to allow residential camps to operate.
Our confidence and enthusiasm in operating this summer partly comes from witnessing the success of resident camps in America who ran in 2020. Ben and I have been in frequent dialog with other camp directors whose state guidelines permitted them to operate last summer; we believe we can borrow the strategies those camps employed and learn from their struggles and triumphs.
We are also encouraged by evidence that suggests that children spread the virus less easily than adults (see this article by Association of American Medical Colleges) and that children are able and willing to comply with safety measures such as masking, social distancing, and handwashing.
Ben and I have been working to develop our operating procedures for 2021, relying on the wisdom other camps and organizations have shared, as well as guidance provided by the American Camp Association and the Western Association of Independent Camps. Our final protocols will be reviewed by several medical professionals and approved by our board of directors. We will also share this final document with you, our French Camp families. We expect that we will continue to refine our operating procedures as we approach the summer and circumstances change and/or we learn more about the virus.
We’ll be employing a “Swiss cheese model” at camp. This NYT article does a good job of describing this model. In short, every strategy for lessening risk still contains danger of the virus spreading, but adding many layers of risk prevention creates the safest environment possible. In CIFC’s Swiss-cheese model, our layers of protection will be:
- Participants isolating and testing prior to traveling to Canoe Island
- Daily monitoring of temperature and symptoms
- Distancing, masking, and reducing population density indoors
- “Bubbling” with one or two tipis to sleep and eat
- Enhanced cleaning of the facility and air filtration
Pre-Camp Self-Isolation and Testing
We will request that every camper and staff member coming to Canoe Island in 2021 partake in a 14-day self-isolation (Note*** We expect that this will be a shorter quarantine period, as recommended by Washington State guidelines). The isolation period may be shorter based on feedback we receive from medical professionals. This isolation period will forestall the possibility of a camper attending another camp or a large gathering immediately before coming to Canoe Island. We will also ask campers and staff to receive a negative virus test no more than three days prior to coming to Canoe Island. Your family’s diligence during this period will determine the success of this element of our Swiss cheese model of safety.
Note that we will allow campers and staff from other geographic regions, including international participants, assuming health department regulations permit us to do so. We believe that the probability of an individual being a vector for the virus is dependent more on a family’s behavior than on a geographic region.
Because so much of CIFC’s programming is already outdoors, we expect that campers will have the opportunity to be mask-free for the many parts of the day. However, there will be several occasions where we will require campers to wear masks, including indoor French classes (students will also be socially distanced) and cuisine class (which will be taught only to pods of tipis) and other occasions.
Mealtime may be the experience that is most vastly different from a normal year. The entire community typically eats inside the Maxim’s (the dining hall) in very close quarters, eating family style (passing bowls of food). In 2021, some campers will eat in the dining hall, some will eat on the pool deck, and some will eat on the Ritz deck. Campers will eat with their tipi groups and tipi groups will be seated more than 6 feet apart. The dining hall will have a commercial-grade air filter.
Enjoying amazing food is a huge part of CIFC’s culture, and we will give campers a fantastic experience in 2021. We will need to re-envision our traditional end-of-session banquet, but rest assured that we will have a celebratory occasion to cap the experience.
We have identified traveling to the island as an element that introduces significant risk into the population. Current Washington State Department of Transportation guidelines advise passengers to remain in their vehicles for the duration of the trip on the ferry; our campers typically travel as foot passengers. Mixing our campers and their parents with other ferry foot passengers and disembarking with the masses of people that travel to Orcas Island in the summertime poses an uncontrollable and high risk to the arriving camper population.
In 2021, we will be chartering a boat to transport campers from a dock in Anacortes directly to Canoe Island. Drop-off and pick-up procedure will be in a much more controlled and leisurely environment than we normally see on the ferry dock. CIFC staff will temperature check each child before boarding the boat.
Some campers arrive direct from Seattle on the Victoria Clipper, via a small airplane from Kenmore Air, or use CIFC’s escorted transportation service from the airport. We are not ruling out the possibility of campers arriving on Victoria Clipper or Kenmore Air and we will be examining ways to ensure safety on these routes. We are contemplating whether CIFC can offer an escorted transportation service from/to SeaTac in 2021; if you are interested in CIFC’s escorted transportation service, please let me know so I can keep you informed.
Off Island Trips
For obvious reasons, we will not be taking campers on some of our typical off-island trips in 2021, such as visits to local farmers’ markets. We know campers dearly love these excursions, but the risk is not worth the reward. We will, however, carry on with our normal trips that do not expose our staff and campers to individuals outside the camp community. We’re eager for campers and staff to make use of our new bike fleet. We plan for campers to enjoy bike trips, hiking, and camping trips this summer.
We believe we will have access to relatively inexpensive and reliable testing while camp is in session. Our goal at this point is to test all campers immediately after arriving on Canoe Island, and again halfway through the session.
Procedure for ill Campers
If we detect symptoms of coronavirus in any camp or staff member, that individual will be quarantined in a tent adjacent to the infirmary and immediately tested. If the rest results are positive or if we have reason to believe the person contracted the virus (e.g. exposure to known case or multiple symptoms), the individual must leave Canoe Island. Parents must agree to be available to retrieve their child (or send a designated guardian) within 36 hours of a positive test.
Additional Camp Fee
Operating in 2021 creates many additional expenses for CIFC due to new equipment and staffing needs. CIFC will shoulder the burden of many of the expenses for facility alterations. We will be asking French Camp families to pay an additional fee of $75 per camper to cover our steep increase in transportation costs in 2021 to charter boats, as well as an additional $125 per camper to cover on-island coronavirus testing and medical supplies. Families attending camp with financial aid can apply for additional relief if need be.
We want to stress that CIFC cannot guarantee a 100% covid-free environment next summer, just as no organization can offer this guarantee. What we can promise is a diligent, multi-layered culture of best practices and risk mitigation, and an organization staffed with attentive adults who keep close tabs on your child’s health and the health of the CIFC community as a whole. We know that every family has a different level of risk tolerance, and we know that, for some families, sending their child to camp this summer poses an unacceptable risk. We sympathize with this position and want you to know that if you choose to withdraw your child from French Camp 2021, we fully understand that decision. We will welcome your child back to Canoe Island with open arms in future years.
We want to acknowledge how incredibly difficult this past year has been for everyone. By summertime, we will be 18 months into the pandemic. It would be hard to overstate the pandemic’s negative effect on young people’s mental health. After a stunted school year and heaps of anxiety and isolation, we believe that our campers need the immersive and educational experience of camp more than ever. We believe CIFC can provide kids with an emotionally and physically safe community, and we’re ready to do everything within our power to create and protect this space for your children.
Margaret et Ben