According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a Georgia YMCA overnight summer camp experienced a COVID-19 outbreak in June infecting hundreds with the deadly virus while raising concerns of children contracting the disease.
Although the camp attempted to practice preventative measures including wearing face masks, YMCA Camp High Harbour at Lake Burton was forced to shut down their program after reopening due to the outbreak. Outlets report that 344 campers and staff workers tested for COVID-19, 260 came back positive in the ensuing weeks of the closure, including 168 children.
The average age of campers was 12, and staffers were 17. There were seven staffers between the ages of 22 and 59.
“These findings demonstrate that SARS-CoV-2 spread efficiently in a youth-centric overnight setting, resulting in high attack rates among persons in all age groups, despite efforts by camp officials to implement most recommended strategies to prevent transmission,” the CDC report on Friday said.
Former epidemiologist in Georgia, Brian Castrucci, said that the CDC report serves as a warning to local school districts in Georgia about the possibility of the virus spreading in large settings.
“This should show you how actively kids can transmit it,” he said. “If you have a low prevalence in your community, you can start to do things. If you have rampant and rapid community spread, then there is no opening school, there is no opening colleges. It is not going to work.”
As part of Georgia’s reopening plan, Governor Brian Kemp initially allowed day camps to open for the summer. In May, an executive order was signed, allowing overnight camps to operate as long as they followed health and hygiene guidelines. This included temperature checks and a requirement for YMCA members to test negative for the virus within 12 days before the beginning of camp.
“We know that congregate settings, particularly indoor congregant settings, are among the highest risks,” Dr. Harry J. Heiman, clinical associate professor at the Georgia State University School of Public Health, said.
While High Harbour followed the directions of Kemp’sKemp’s executive order, the program failed to abide by the CDC’s recommendation for added ventilation in facilities or universal use of face masks for staff and campers.
“Relatively large cohorts sleeping in the same cabin and engaging in regular singing and cheering likely contributed to transmission,” the CDC said. “Use of cloth masks, which has been shown to reduce the risk for infection, was not universal.”
The report added:
“Physical distancing and consistent and correct use of cloth masks should be emphasized as important strategies for mitigating transmission in congregate settings.”
In a written statement, Parrish Underwood, the chief advancement officer for the YMCA of Metro Atlanta, said that the organization now regrets opening the camp.
“We made every effort to adhere to best practices outlined by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the American Camp Association,” [and the governor], Underwood said.
“Attending Camp High Harbour is a tradition numerous generations of Y families look forward to every summer. Many of these individuals reached out to our staff to express their desire for us to open our residential camps in an effort to create normalcy in their children’s lives due to the detrimental impact of COVID-19. This weighed heavily in our decision to open, a decision in retrospect we regret.”
Among the campers and staff who tested positive for the virus, 44% were children between the ages of 11 to 17, roughly 51 children were between 6 and 10 years old, and a third of the remaining cases were of those between ages 18 and 59.
“Many of us have said all along that unless we can get the level of COVID-19 down in communities, it is not safe to open schools and colleges,” Heiman, Georgia State professor,
said. “This (report) certainly reinforces that.”