CARTERSVILLE, Ga. (CBS46) — At least 85 people have contracted COVID-19 after a counselor and 17-year-old girl tested positive for the virus while at YMCA Camp Harbour.
From June 17-20 the overnight camp held orientation which included 138 trainees and 120 staff members. On June 23, two days after 363 campers and senior staff members joined the camp, the teen girl began displaying symptoms of the virus. The following day parents were notified of the positive COVID test and were provided instructions on picking up their children.
By June 27 the camp was closed.
More than a month later on July 31, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study on the virus’ outbreak at overnight camps.
Parrish Underwood, Chief Advancement Officer of the YMCA of Metro Atlanta, released the following statement in response to the dozens of positive tests that have since occurred.
“In preparing for Camp High Harbour, we made every effort to adhere to best practices outlined by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the American Camp Association. Additionally, we followed guidelines set forth by the Executive Order from the State of Georgia.
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.
After learning on June 24 that a counselor tested positive for COVID-19, we immediately closed both of our resident camp locations and the counselor was sent home. It should be noted that the counselor also passed the mandated safety protocols, inclusive of providing a negative COVID-19 test, and did not exhibit any symptoms upon arrival. In fact, all counselors and campers attending passed all mandatory screenings. At that time, parents were promptly notified of the opportunity to pick up their children.
We also began working closely with the Georgia Department of Public Health and CDC to provide information pertaining to camp, so they would have a better understanding of the effects COVID-19 has on children.
It’s never a pleasant when someone tests positive for COVID-19, but we are thankful for the support and understanding of campers, parents and staff during this situation.”
In May, Governor Brian Kemp issued an Executive Order that allowed children to return to camps with several COVID safety measures in place. One requirement that was not mandated in the order — and remains unmandated — is the use of face masks.
The CDC study details how the camp “adopted most components of CDC’s Suggestions for Youth and Summer Camps to minimize the risk for SARS-CoV-2 introduction and transmission. Measures not implemented were cloth masks for campers and opening windows and doors for increased ventilation in buildings. Cloth masks were required for staff members.”
In total 597 Georgia residents ranging in age from 6 -19 attended the camp. On average the 31 cabins available to house campers were occupied by 15 people.
The Georgia Department of Public Health says, “We have since learned of additional positive COVID-19 test results of campers and staff, but cannot confirm a number.”
“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. Asymptomatic infection was common and potentially contributed to undetected transmission,” said the CDC in its report.
According to the American Camp Association “more than 3,000 day and overnight camps that have run in-person programming for kids in the USA this summer – including camps” have not reported any infections.
“Camps are at the forefront of child safety during this pandemic,” said Tom Rosenberg, American Camp Association Chief Executive Officer. “When camps consistently use the innovative, multi-layered safety strategy outlined in our Field Guide for Operating Camps in COVID-19 , we see that many of them minimize infections as well as the spread of COVID-19. However, infections increase if people become lax or inconsistent. The most important safety layer is a culture of compliance.”