Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new guidance to help summer camps mitigate their coronavirus risk. Given that summer camps involve both children and the outdoors—two factors that render COVID-19 significantly less worrisome—and will be opening in the wake of widespread vaccination, one might have expected the CDC to depart from its characteristic over-caution.
Nope: This is among the most restrictive, unrealistic guidance the agency has released during the pandemic. It's more limiting than the CDC's guidance for vaccinated people exercising outside more generally. If followed, summer campers would be miserable, deprived of physical contact, and in considerable danger of overheating. The government has essentially recommended that summer camps treat kids like prisoners.
Here are just some of the restrictions:
- Everyone at the camp—including staff and every kid over the age of two—must wear masks at all times, unless they are eating or swimming. They should wear two layers of masks, especially when social distancing is difficult, regardless of "whether activities are indoors or outdoors."
- Campers should be placed in "cohorts," and their interaction with people outside the cohort must be limited.
- There should always be at least three feet between campers of the same cohort, and six feet between campers of different cohorts. Staff should keep six feet away from campers at all times, whether inside or outside. Distance should be maintained while eating, napping, or riding the bus: The CDC suggests seating kids in alternating rows.
- The use of physical objects that might be shared among kids—toys, art supplies, electronics—should be limited wherever possible.
- Camps should not permit close-contact sports and indoor sports, and should require masks regardless.
- If anyone is curious there are separate restrictions for outdoor gardening.
This is bonkers. First, COVID-19 is not easily transmitted outside, even if people are maskless. Second, all camp staffers will have likely had the opportunity to be vaccinated by the time summer arrives. Third, the campers themselves are not at risk of a negative health outcome: For kids, COVID-19 is probably less hazardous than the flu. (In a typical year, more U.S. kids drown than will have died of COVID-19.)
From a pandemic standpoint, kids playing together outside is an extremely safe group activity. And again, the vaccines work. They offer almost complete protection for anyone who is worried about getting sick.
David Zweig interviewed several health experts for New York magazine who assailed the guidance as "cruel," "irrational," and little more than "virtue signaling." He writes:
Mark Gorelik, a pediatric immunologist at Columbia University and an expert on MIS-C, the rare COVID-19-related inflammatory syndrome, said, "We know that the risk of outdoor infection is very low. We know risks of children becoming seriously ill or even ill at all is vanishingly small. And most of the vulnerable population is already vaccinated. I am supportive of effective measures to restrain the spread of illness. However, the CDC's recommendations cross the line into excess and are, frankly, senseless. Children cannot be running around outside in 90-degree weather wearing a mask. Period."
An infectious-disease scientist at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Anthony Fauci's agency, spoke with me about the CDC guidance on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media. "With staff and parents vaccinated, there is no reason to continue incredibly strict mitigation efforts or put severe limitations on activities," they said. "Charitably," the scientist, who has an expertise in respiratory viruses, continued, "masking kids at camp outdoors is simply virtue signaling. Requiring kids to continuously wear masks at camps, even while outside playing in the heat, when it provides little additional protection is unfair and cruel to our children. Considering that children are at incredibly low risk for developing severe illness, the minimal benefits of mask wearing do not outweigh the substantial costs of discouraging children to be active and their overall health."
Kids and vaccinated adults do not need to wear masks or adhere to strict social distancing while outside. The guidance should be updated immediately to reflect this reality. Failing that, it should simply be ignored.