From our good colleague Ben (@USMortality on Twitter) we now have some very strong evidence and...
Dear Camp Director,
We have read through your policies for this summer’s camp session, and the answers to the questions in this letter will help us decide whether [Camp Name] will be a good fit for our children this year. It would be our oldest child’s third summer and our younger child’s second. They’ve very much been looking forward to a normal camp experience after many months of living in a city myopically focused on COVID-19.
We can appreciate that various competing interests and concerns have put you in a tough position. We also understand that your COVID-related policies are the result of careful conversations and ever-shifting “guidance” from state and federal agencies. The changes in guidance this week alone have been head-spinning.
This year’s policies appear to be more restrictive than they were last year, which is both puzzling and disappointing, given the following realities:
With this context, we object to several of the policies/measures you have adopted for this summer:
1) Requiring a negative COVID test for camp participation and (with high schoolers) for departure.
This policy, which was not in place last year, makes little sense for a number of reasons.
First, many campers have likely already contracted and recovered from COVID-19, as our children did. We don’t see the benefit or purpose in making children “prove” they aren’t “positive” for a virus that they recovered from. It is highly unlikely that they will be re-infected, as there have been only 70 documented reinfections in the world. Your testing policy suggests that people are routinely re-infected after 90 days, which is not the case.
It seems your camp is adopting a “guilty until proven innocent” – or rather, “sick until proven healthy”—mindset. Children are being asked to make “not getting COVID” a daily goal, which is untenable, socially/psychologically harmful, and illogical. Redefining “sick” as “getting a positive test” and moralizing virus transmission is something we’ve come to expect of self-interested public health officials – not of you and your camp. If children are exhibiting symptoms of Covid-Like Illness (CLI) before camp, you should trust parents to respond accordingly. The quarantining agreement, while excessive, takes care of this. If a child becomes sick on the bus or at camp, we trust camp staff to respond accordingly, like we always have.
Testing of asymptomatic individuals is controversial even among prominent public health physicians. Testing a person against his/her will is unethical. Like all tests, PCR tests have a false positive rate. Moreover, PCR tests are very sensitive, and when the assays use a high cycle threshold (which most do), they are prone to detecting months-old, non-infectious virus. Under your policy, false and “old virus” positives could keep campers from being able to attend. Testing high schoolers at camp and prior to departure feels more like a research study – or some kind of liability protection – than an actual concern for students’ health and well-being.
Notably, other overnight camps are not requiring a COVID test for campers as a condition of participation, [add names of camps here if you have examples].
2) Required masking. Perhaps more puzzling than required testing is your requirement for masks on the bus and while walking into the dining hall, after campers have shown a negative COVID test. As demonstrated by data from around the world, including in the U.S. — and numerous studies — cloth does not stop viruses. There’s no shortage of contradictory mask advice and claims, and even some of the most ardent champions of mask mandates are now calling for an end to such mandates, especially for children and teens. In addition, the World Health Organization has now admitted that the virus is airborne/aerosolized (and the CDC has also updated its site to state that infections can occur through inhalation at distances greater than 6 feet, which implicitly admits that it’s airborne), which renders cloth masks even more useless.
We see that you’re trying to create a “COVID-free bubble” with the testing, but we see no logic – or science – in forcing students to cover their faces on the bus or indoors. Even if cloth stopped viruses, the children will have tested negative, and adults have been given the chance to vaccinate. Further, last summer, our children’s gaiters came home filthy. We don’t want them wearing dirty cloths on their faces, nor do we want them spending time washing masks, especially when mask-wearing is performative.
The truth is, schools across the country and in other countries have abandoned mandatory masking – or made masks optional in August 2020 – without negative outcomes, including schools in Sweden and over 100 public school districts in Texas. It may interest you to know that Christian Liberty Academy in Arlington Heights (IL) made masks optional year. When we visited in March, almost no students were wearing masks, and only two staff were. The school had very few COVID cases, even with that choice-based policy. This is not surprising and fits with data maintained by Dr. Emily Oster, professor of economics at Brown University, that shows required masking is associated with higher cases numbers among staff and students in schools, regardless of community transmission rates. (See image below.)
Parents are the primary decision makers for their own children’s well-being. Wearing masks should be their and their child’s informed choice.
Our daughter, in particular, experiences deep anxiety when asked or forced to cover her face. (In fact, she reported having a poor experience last year at camp with the limited masking). Our son has bravely and successfully asserted his right to face freedom in stores and restaurants for months – which is an accomplishment in our mask-mandate county. The social and psychological messages that masks send are not harm- or value-free. Especially in a camp environment that emphasizes relationships between everyone involved, masks are a distraction and a barrier. The burden of superfluous masking is not one that campers should be forced to bear.
3) Privileging vaccinated campers. We were disappointed to read that your policies privilege campers who have been vaccinated for COVID-19. Even though our own kids have had the “typical” childhood vaccines, we don’t recall your camp requiring vaccination records – or a flu or chicken pox vaccine – for camp participation. We don’t oppose vaccination in general, but the push to vaccinate children for a virus that poses fewer risks to them than flu is misguided. Privileging campers who choose a vaccine – and effectively punishing those who don’t – is a highly questionable decision. It also strikes us as a form of coercion to say if campers get the vaccine, then they won’t have to be subjected to testing. (Testing that no camper should have to undergo.) Curiously, your policy says vaccinated high schoolers still need a negative COVID test to attend – due to potentially being asymptomatic – but don’t need to test thereafter, while all other high school campers do.
We assume your camp’s staff will have had a chance to be vaccinated. In that case, as three reputable doctors said in BMJ, “The small risk posed to children by COVID-19 does not merit restrictions on any regular child activities in a context where adults are protected by vaccines.”
4) Appeals to virtue. Your email says that changes to the COVID policies are “out of love and respect for others.” Individuals have never been held responsible for ensuring that they don’t unwittingly (i.e., when they have no symptoms and have no reason to believe they are sick) transmit a virus to someone else, and love does not require surrendering one’s own physical, mental, and emotional health to others’ unreasonable fears or individual health needs. Campers and staff who are truly medically vulnerable to severe outcomes from SARS-CoV-2 infection should consult their own doctors and take appropriate steps.
In summary, we respectfully request that you reconsider both direct and indirect effects of the above-mentioned policies on campers and change them to policies that are well-supported by data and common sense. For each policy, state exactly why each measure is being undertaken, explain the underlying assumptions and values associated therewith, and cite relevant data and peer-reviewed research. There are any number of contractible/transmittable pathogens in camp environments, and campers participate in scores of activities that carry risk of injury or death. COVID-19 is on the very low end of the scale when it comes to severe negative outcomes for children. Asking parents and campers to pretend this virus is more dangerous than it is will cause unnecessary anxiety and may distract from potentially more dangerous threats.
COVID transmission, and the low risks associated therewith, have been moralized, sadly, and we have placed unfair, nonsensical burdens on children and teens throughout this pandemic. Please set them free from harmful, unnecessary protocols and useless mitigations so that they can have the normal camp experience they deserve.