COVID-19 outbreak hits popular summer camp for New Yorkers

Summer camps are still not immune from COVID-19 outbreaks, including one popular upstate camp in the Catskills that was forced to close its first session early after more than 50 staffers and four young campers tested positive.

The Frost Valley YMCA summer camp in Claryville, a destination that draws scores of campers from New York City and the Northeast region, ended the first session on two of its campuses early, according to a memo posted online by Chief Executive Officer Jerry Huncosky on July 7th.

The interruption parallels a national and international pattern for sleepaway camps this summer. A camp in southern Ohio closed for a week after nine cases were detected among staffers, and a YMCA camp in Canada also closed early after a third of its staffers tested positive for COVID-19.

All staffers at the camp were fully vaccinated, boosted and had tested negative prior to arriving for the first camp session, which started June 26th. Four campers also tested positive at the time of the early dismissal.

The incident may be due, in part, to bad timing. An omicron subvariant known as BA.5 has been growing in New York and nationwide in recent weeks, just as teens were freed from the clutches of school. This variant is thought to breeze past our frontline defense of antibodies, whether they be created by vaccination or past infection. That leaves people susceptible to catching the virus even while still being protected from severe disease in most cases, thanks to other portions of the immune system.

“Because the required counselor-to-camper ratios could not be maintained going forward if the numbers continued to go up, the decision was made to close Camp Wawayanda and Camp Henry Hird halfway through the first session,” Huncosky said in the memo.

One Brooklyn parent, who didn’t want to be named because their teenager is a junior counselor at the Frost Valley camp, said the YMCA’s communication about the outbreak was limited.

The teen called home that week and said “’a lot of the staff are coming down with COVID. They might shut down the camp,’” the parent said in a phone interview last week.

Their teenager was put into quarantine, “like a bunch of people in one small cabin,” said the parent, who drove to Frost Valley to pick up their teenager. “No one told me what they told the kids. I don’t know how they got all the kids home, when they went home, or anything like that.”

The Frost Valley staff will now be “strongly” encouraged to wear masks and “engage in low-risk behavior (ie avoiding large gatherings and indoor dining) if they do leave the property,” Huncosky said in the memo.

The camp had already required all staff and campers over the age of 12 to be vaccinated and boosted. Kids ages 5-11 were also required to be vaccinated and boosted if eligible.

Starting with the second session which started on July 10th, Frost Valley is now asking that campers who are eligible to be boosted before arriving, or to have their parents bring them to get the booster shot while attending camp. Campers will now be required to be tested before their session and to bring their negative test results, as well as undergo a round of testing at Frost Valley in their first week.

“This was not the way any of us had hoped session 1 would go,” Huncosky said. “We know how much our campers look forward to their time at camp, especially after the last several years of shutdowns, hybrid learning, and the myriad other ways this virus and its variants has altered their lives. We are sorry for the disappointment this has caused for our session 1 campers and their parents.”

Other local day camps have also seen COVID-19 cases pop up. Criselda Carmenate, a mother of a 4-year-old girl, said her daughter attended one week of day camp at the Riverdale Y in the Bronx before coming home with the coronavirus.

“Well, for three years we didn’t get COVID – her, me, my husband. We managed to steer clear. I don’t know how. And she went to camp … and that Saturday she tested positive for COVID,” Carmenate said. “I didn’t get any notifications from the camp to say that anyone else did (get COVID).”

Carmenate said there is no mask mandate at the day camp. A request for comment from the Riverdale Y was not immediately returned.

The Brooklyn parent of the Frost Valley junior counselor said they suspect end-of-school activities for the teen staffers, rather than the camps themselves, might have led to the outbreak.

Their teenager’s classmate who is also at Frost Valley and tested positive for COVID-19 thinks he might have been exposed at prom. New York City relaxed coronavirus precautions at prom after parents and elected officials complained of students being denied access — despite being allowed to participate in other extracurricular activities.

“And so I think that’s what happened is all these kids that are junior and regular counselors are probably seniors in high school, juniors, (and they) are going to proms and graduation parties. And they probably all picked it up and brought it up there,” the parent said.

“I don’t want to bad mouth [Frost Valley] – they’re a lovely place and it’s just that people just get overwhelmed with this because it’s all new,” the parent said. “I’m sure even if they require negative tests, it probably still could have happened.”

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