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Tampa Bay summer camps: Some are canceled, others set to open with changes

Hillsborough Parks and Recreation has canceled its popular summer camps, but St. Petersburg, YMCA and MOSI are moving ahead.

We are down to what would have been the last few weeks of school, and many summer camps are still weighing whether or not they will take place starting next month.

On Thursday, Hillsborough County Parks and Recreation pulled the plug on its series of summer camps that traditionally begin the first week of June and run in a series of two-week sessions throughout the summer.

But the city of St. Petersburg, the YMCA and Tampa’s Museum of Science and Industry have decided their summer camps will proceed, with some changes. They will drastically reduce the number of campers, and increase cleaning and personal spacing.

According to the American Camp Association, parents spent an average of $315 per week on day camp tuition in 2018. The ACA has encouraged organizers to hold off on decisions to cancel summer camps, to see if modifications can be made that would make parents more comfortable about safety amid the COVID-19 crisis.

“The cancellation of the summer camps aligns with the recent decision made by Hillsborough County Public Schools regarding virtual summer school classes,” the Hillsborough Parks and Recreation Department announced Thursday. “Parents who preregistered their children will receive full refunds for the paid sessions.”

Children dance at the Westchase Recreation Center in 2012 in Tampa. Hillsborough County's recreation centers offer summer camp programs for children that provide them with a variety of activities. But this year's camps have been canceled because of coronavirus concerns. [EDMUND D. FOUNTAIN | Times (2012)]

The department is developing virtual programming “designed to engage and educate children during the summer months,” the announcement said. It encouraged parents to continue to visit HCFLGov.net for the latest information on programming.

Related: Pasco schools plan to reopen child care starting June 1

The St. Petersburg Parks and Recreation Department plans to open summer programs for kids on June 1, but the programs will be very different this year due to COVID-19 concerns, city spokeswoman Yolanda Fernandez said.

“The programs will follow CDC guidelines, allowing no more than nine children and one leader in a room,” Fernandez said. The programs typically have groups that are nearly twice that size. There will also be more sanitation requirements, she said. “Each rec center will have to limit the number of children who can participate, depending upon the number of rooms it has available and the space requirements.”

Kids practice skateboarding skills at Fossil Skate Park recreation center in St. Petersburg during summer camp in 2012. This year the city will greatly reduce the number of campers per group at its recreation centers. [ZUPPA, CHRIS | Times (2012)]

Parents should look for the city to roll out more details and registration information next week. Check the city’s Facebook page or its Parks and Recreation website at stpeteparksrec.org, or contact the department at (727) 893-7441.

The St. Petersburg YMCA has similar plans, reducing its summer camps by half and it is already 80 percent full said COO Tim Staley.

Tampa’s Museum of Science and Industry has announced modifications to its summer camps this year too, including increased training and cleaning of the camp areas. Workers will get their temperatures checked at the start of each day.

In addition, MOSI has said parents will not need to leave their car for drop-off, but can pull up through the car circle to check their child in. Other changes imposed for summer camp will include:

  • Parents will not be allowed in the camp classrooms.
  • All food must be brought from home, and no sharing will be allowed.
  • Lunch will be outside at picnic tables in the covered area. Only four campers per table will be allowed to maintain safe distances.
  • Frequent hand washing will be incorporated into the daily routine of each camper.
  • Sharing of objects will be discouraged.
  • Campers and staff will be advised to practice physical distancing by standing at least six feet away from others.
  • Signage will be posted reminding employees, parents and campers of distancing guidelines.

It could be a model for other camps that do open this summer. Parents are advised to stay in contact with the camps they planned to send their children to this summer to see if there will be a delay or cancellation.

Both Pinellas and Pasco counties have said their summer schools will continue distance learning this summer, though Pasco has said it will open its childcare program at schools for kindergarten through sixth grade starting in June.

The American Camp Association, the 100-year-old organization that trains and certifies thousands of camps across the country, told its 12,000 members that the CDC “has advised camps to give themselves as much time as possible before making final decisions about the summer.” The CDC has issued guidelines for summer camps that stress hygiene and limits sharing of items such as toys, belongings, supplies and equipment.

The ACA launched an online program of resources for camps at acacamps.org, including options for virtual camp programming, another possibility that’s being discussed.

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