Reston Association summer camps bounce back after rare year off due to COVID-19

More children are participating in Reston Association’s summer camps this year than before the COVID-19 pandemic.

After canceling the program last year for the first time in its more than 40-year history, Reston Camps has seen enrollment for 2021 exceed where it was at the end of summer 2019, RA Director of Recreation and Environmental Education Laura Kowalski told Reston Now.

RA declined to share exact attendance numbers, citing “competitive business reasons,” but Kowalski says it has been “a very good camp year” even with some COVID-19 protocols still in place.

“It has been wonderful to have the program run this summer, to see the smiles from both campers and staff after a tough year,” Kowalski said.

In fact, enrollment has been so strong that, in some cases, RA has added additional sessions and staff to handle the demand.

The aquatics camp and watercraft camp — one of several new offerings that were originally planned for the 2020 season — have been especially popular, as have the tennis camps, which added more coaches and camp counselors.

“It’s sort of across the board that we’ve had good involvement,” Kowalski said.

With the camp registration period opening on June 1, the enrollment increase came as declining COVID-19 case levels and rising vaccination numbers suggested this summer would represent an emergence from the pandemic’s shadows, though the delta variant’s spread has recently started to temper that optimism.

The end of Virginia’s capacity and social distancing requirements on May 28 ahead of Memorial Day weekend meant that Reston Camps didn’t have to impose restrictions on attendance as initially anticipated, according to Kowalski.

However, RA is still following health recommendations from the Virginia Department of Social Services and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for camps, which need different rules given the number of children involved, many of them too young to be eligible for the authorized vaccines.

As part of its COVID-19 procedures, Reston Camps requires participants and staff to wear face masks at all times except when outdoors and maintaining six feet of distance. Staffers have some discretion for when campers can remove their masks, such as when they’re around or in water.

Staff members are also frequently cleaning and sanitizing high-touch surfaces, and children are allowed to carry a small container of hand sanitizer.

According to Kowalski, there have been no reported instances of campers or staff contracting COVID-19 since the camping season began in mid-June, though if there were, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) would prevent RA from disclosing that information.

“We have not had to close any camps,” she said.

The RA website says all camps are eligible for a full refund, including deposits, due to COVID-19.

While the camps are largely unchanged from past years, aside from the presence of masks, one alteration that Kowalski says will become permanent is the use of virtual orientations.

RA onboarded 406 seasonal staff who work anywhere from 10 to 40 hours a week in its aquatics, camp, and tennis departments this year. Having part of their orientations online instead of in-person resulted in a quicker, more efficient, and more flexible process that could accommodate their varying schedules.

“It was well received by our onboarding staff as well as the supervisors administering the orientation,” Kowalski said. “…It is something that we will continue in future years.”

Reston Camps last through Aug. 20. A fundraiser by RA’s nonprofit arm, Friends of Reston, is still open to help children who would otherwise be unable to afford to attend.

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