North Star Camp for Boys

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Covid-19 Response Plan Overview

I know that everyone has been waiting patiently for a green light on camp this summer, and this is not quite that. We are living in a yellow light world. I reserve the right to yield if circumstances change in a way that jeopardizes the safety of our community, be it a local outbreak, changing information about the pediatric inflammatory syndrome, or other changing medical protocols, as well as adjust dates if necessary. But while there remain questions to be answered and hurdles to clear, we are following a path that could allow us to provide a safe and fantastic experience for our 2020 campers. 

Camp is going to be different this summer. Covid-19 has changed the whole world and camp in 2020 is no exception. After months of planning, and careful consideration, we are working towards running a a Single 7-week Session for 2020 starting at the end of June (tentatively scheduled from June 29 - August 14). The sacrifices that our campers and families have made this spring have motivated our whole team to do everything in our power to make camp happen safely for our boys, and we believe that we have a plan in place to do just that.

We respect that every camp has to make its own decisions about this summer, and we respect that every family has to make its own decisions about this summer. We talk a lot with the boys about doing the right thing for the right reasons, but in these circumstances the choices are personal and complicated, and what may be right for some families or some camps will be different for others. I first and foremost have promised that I will only take campers or staff at North Star this summer if we are in a position to both adequately care for them and provide them a fantastic experience. While this email is going to be lengthy, I intend to lay out an overview of our plan to accomplish that. After reading this, and discussing as a family, I ask that every family login to CampInTouch to complete the 2020 Intent Form by Friday at 5pm Central Time.

  • We will run camp as though we expect Coronavirus to come into camp.
  • We are confident that we can care for a camper with Covid-19 at camp.
  • We will take extensive measures to create a self-contained community of otherwise healthy young people for the entire session.
  • We will monitor, assess and test all campers and staff prior to arrival, upon arrival, and beyond.
  • We will begin camp with a 2-week cabin based quarantine. Meals, activities and all daily logistics will be coordinated to keep campers and counselors of each cabin physically distant from the campers and counselors of the other cabins.
  • There will be a lot of cleaning and sanitizing.
  • There will be even more handwashing and hand-sanitizing.
  • There will be times when campers and staff are asked to wear masks.
  • We have an incredible team in place to handle these challenges this summer.
  • Camp will not be the same. Some parts of this won’t be fun. But the opportunity to be in a beautiful place, among friends and participating in camp activities still beats Fortnite in the basement by a longshot. 

I want to start by explaining the methodology behind our decision. While I appreciate the support and trust you have continued to voice in our abilities, we are not experts in global pandemics. I am only smart enough to know that I needed to rely on much smarter folks to guide the way. We now have guidance from the CDC, the State of Wisconsin, our Sawyer County Health Department and a Field Guide for Camps put together by the American Camp Association with the help of a top public health consulting firm. We are lucky to have many parents and alumni within our own camp community who have been able to lend a great deal of expertise on all fronts. We have spoken with dozens of health care professionals including infectious disease doctors, public health specialists, pediatricians and ER doctors. We have asked them to review our plans, ask questions and poke holes, and we refused to stop until those plans were comprehensive enough that they would feel good about sending their own kids. 

From the beginning of this process, the prevailing idea is that we could create our own bubble at camp, taking care of everyone within that bubble while keeping everyone else out. That concept is why I have arrived at one single session. I do not take lightly that many campers will not be able to participate for a myriad of reasons; be it medical, logistical, financial or otherwise; and I will be fully supportive of any families who choose to not to send their children this year. Creating this single session bubble appears to be the best way to safely give as many kids as possible an experience that we can be proud of. In order to contain this bubble, there will be no late arrivals nor would there be any visitors to camp. We will create opportunities for FaceTime or Zoom calls in lieu of the visiting weekend. 

We will be taking extensive measures to keep Coronavirus out of camp, but before detailing those, I want to make it clear that we are going to run camp as if the virus did come into camp. No amount of testing, handwashing or monitoring of symptoms can fully guarantee that Coronavirus does not get into camp. We intend to run because we believe that we can care for campers and staff if they do contract Covid-19. The CDC has stated that children with confirmed COVID-19 have generally presented with mild, cold-like symptoms [link] and that for camp-age children, roughly 1 in every 100,000 confirmed positive Covid-19 cases is serious enough to require hospitalization [link].

I am not a doctor, and I don’t expect you to just take this from me. I believe that every family should consult their own physician to have input on this decision. We will ask every family that does opt in for this summer to have a physician sign off on their child’s participation. And we will make some of our own experts available to take questions in a Zoom call at 8pm Central Time on Wednesday.

If a camper does show symptoms of Covid-19, they will quickly be isolated at camp. We will work with our local health department to test symptomatic campers.  Cabinmates of any confirmed positive cases will also be tested. The care we provide will be similar to the supportive care you would give at home including liquids, fever reduction and rest.  Our health team will be larger than usual, led by our wonderful Head Nurse Terry. We have established telemedicine capabilities through PediaTrust, and will have trusted doctors able to assess our campers at the click of a button.  
We will follow the latest CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics protocols to determine when it is appropriate to rejoin their group. Currently that guidance states that children should be fever free for 72 hours and 10 days from the onset of their symptoms. If multiple campers are confirmed positive, they will be able to be isolated together. Isolation will take place in our new health center, which has air conditioning and wifi. Yes, we are willing to make screen exemptions for isolated campers. And if your child is being treated in our health center, our health team will be in daily communication with you and you will have the option to speak with your child daily. If your preference is to bring your son home should he test positive, we will work with you on a safe and responsible plan to transport them. 
Should our team determine that further care is needed for any Covid-19 symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, we would take the campers to Duluth, which is a 90-minute drive to access two excellent hospitals in St. Mary’s and St. Luke’s. 

Preventative Measures and Testing
For the two weeks prior to camp, we will ask every family to keep their camper fully within their household quarantine. We will ask that other members of the household take all possible social distancing measures. We will also ask for families to take the temperatures of their camper for the two weeks prior to camp and monitor for Covid-19 symptoms.

We are working with a few testing companies to determine the best practice for camp in a field that is rapidly evolving and improving. We are working with companies managing the testing protocols for Hollywood film studios and the NFL and will test according to the current best practices as camp approaches. I would anticipate one round of testing for each camper either at their entry point to camp or within 2-3 days prior, as well as an additional test or two within the first two weeks of camp. Consideration is also being given to testing prior to campers’ departure. There will be an additional charge for testing.

No tests are 100% accurate and no testing protocol can guarantee that your child will not be exposed to Coronavirus at camp. That is why even if everyone tests negative upon arrival, we will begin our summer with a 2-week cabin based quarantine.

Cabin Quarantine
The summer will begin with all campers and counselors quarantining with their cabin. Note that every cabin will have access to a wide range of camp activities during these two weeks. A quarantine that involves climbing, canoeing and basketball will look and feel a lot different from most in-home quarantines over the past few months. But by keeping cabin groups from physically interacting with one another and by keeping cabin groups from sharing physical spaces, we will be able to limit the potential spread of the virus if it did come in. 

Each cabin will have a full schedule of activities each day that keeps them active and engaged, while also providing enough time for the counselors to sanitize the equipment at that activity on the way in and on the way out. Activity areas will only be used by one group at a time. Each cabin will travel with its own cleaning supplies and hand sanitizer to mitigate the risk of transmission. The days will be coordinated down to having assigned shower times in the washhouse.

Our amazing staff have already put together a list of special cabin-based activities, above and beyond our regularly scheduled programming, to keep the days filled with memorable, fun experiences. Our trip staff are designing day hikes and river trips that will allow the cabin groups to explore the beauty of the great Northwoods without breaking their quarantine. And we are working to come up with fun ways for cabins to interact with one another without breaking the physical barrier, as engaging with the wider camp community remains an integral part of the experience.

After two weeks, if we are symptom free and testing negative, we will be able to relax the cabin quarantine and get back to something closer to our normal routines at camp. If positive cases are identified, we would use cabin quarantines beyond the first two weeks to limit transmission. We also hope to be able to run our overnight wilderness camping trips after we’ve cleared the quarantine, though we will only do so in a way that includes no interaction with the public. 

We ask that you address the cabin quarantine specifically with your son prior to making a decision about this summer. During the cabin quarantine, and even throughout the remainder of the summer, the campers will not have the normal opportunity to individually choose their schedules as is the standard at North Star. Both because of the physical distance from the other cabin groups, and the restricted freedom to choose activities individually, the cabin based programming will be a big adjustment for the boys and we want them to fully understand what they are signing up for.

One of the most obvious changes to camp this summer will be at mealtimes. We will be staggering meal times to allow for greater distance and physical separation in the Lodge. We will certainly miss the roar of a full Lodge during cheering, but several shifts are necessary to mitigate the risk of transmission between cabins. Cabins will eat at their own tables in the Lodge, with a great deal of separation between tables. We will be modifying our normal family style dining and KP cleanup procedures to reflect the best practices as indicated by both the CDC and the FDA during this pandemic. 

While we are proud of the geographic diversity of our camp community, it poses additional logistical challenges in getting everyone to camp. There is inherent risk with communicable disease when traveling.  We have protocols in place to minimize that risk while receiving campers who take the Chicago bus, who fly to Minneapolis, or for families who elect to drop their sons at camp. We will have further details about travel in the near future, but we will encourage every family to choose the method of transportation that feels safest to them. 
Many occasions this summer will call for campers and staff to wear masks to cover their faces, and we will require that all campers and staff wear a mask during travel to and from camp. We also expect campers and families to take all possible precautions to limit contact with the public and exposure when making their travel arrangements. This includes packing food instead of purchasing along the way, traveling with hand sanitizer and a change of clothes, and washing hands frequently. 

We have been in close communication with our whole team and are incredibly excited about the group that will be taking care of the campers this year. We had a great team shaping up in the first place, and now we have been able to add many veteran faces who bring a wealth of experience, nurturing, and that blend of professionalism and fun.

Our staff know exactly what they are getting into and have agreed to sacrifice many of their own personal freedoms to create this opportunity for our campers. Their time off will be restricted to limit contact with the public. They will submit to additional screening and quarantining prior to arrival. They have agreed to practice distancing measures beginning during our training, and will be trained on our additional protocols for this summer. And they have committed themselves to creating a safe and supportive environment to help our boys heal after months of social distancing. I feel very fortunate to have such a wonderful group of staff to work with your kids and serve as excellent role models for them.

Next Steps
In these strange times that we’re living in, I know that camp will not be right for everyone this summer. I want to reiterate that we will support any decision that you make as a family, and we will work to support your son no matter what. If camp is not an option for your child this summer, for whatever reason, look forward to having them back at North Star for the Summer of 2021.

I’ve repeatedly promised that we will only take campers or staff this summer if we are in a position to both adequately care for them and provide them a fantastic experience, and that we will continue to live by our North Star values. Camp will be different this summer, but for the campers that are here, I know that they will have fun, be active and engaged, be outdoors, spend time with their friends, and benefit from a great deal of social and emotional development and support. We will do our best to make this happen for any camp families that want their children to attend this summer, and we will work with families on logistical and financial details. 

Please give your full attention to this decision as we will be proceeding based on your feedback. PLEASE COMPLETE THE 2020 INTENT FORM BY FRIDAY AT 5pm CENTRAL. While this is not binding, we will use your response to begin allocating spaces for this summer. Further information will follow this weekend regarding additional logistics and paperwork.

Mark your calendar for the Zoom call at 8pm Central Time on Wednesday with our medical experts and directors.

For all of us, the past several months have been difficult. The Coronavirus will pose many more challenges going forward. This has not been an easy decision, knowing that we cannot meet every child’s needs and every family’s needs. We are so grateful for our North Star family, and while we know that this plan may not be right for everyone, our guiding principle has been doing right by our campers. 

Carry On,