Local camps are preparing and hoping to offer more programming this summer but await word from the province about what will be allowed.

The Ontario Camps Association (OCA) submitted a plan to the province to reopen camps, including overnight ones shuttered in 2020 due to the pandemic. The proposal asks for testing support for anyone entering camps and introduces protocols to reduce traffic flow in and out.

Hockey Haven owner, Troy Binnie, said he is exploring procuring rapid testing for his facility. Registration is open for his programs, but he said he is not taking any money until there is more assurance.

“We’re planning for regular summer – or as close to regular as we’re going to get,” Binnie said. “Kids need it. I think they’ve struggled for the last year trying to get through this (pandemic).”

The province scuttled overnight programs last year, allowing only day programs to go ahead. Camps such as Haliburton’s Medeba cancelled day programs as well due to logistics.

OCA COVID task force member, Thomas Appleyard, said demand is high this year. He added day camps – as well as overnight ones in other jurisdictions – ran with success.

“We understand that it’s not definite. That there are risks involved, We’re very optimistic though,” Appleyard said.

Camexicanus co-founder, Greg Sadlier, ran a day camp last year and said they are planning for a “best-case” scenario with contingencies. Sadlier said they learned a lot going through it last year and children should be even more accustomed to behaving under health protocols.

“We’ve noticed our kids are adaptable,” Sadlier said. “Being able to be outdoors, we really are able to do a lot of our programming.”

But COVID cases are rising again are across the province. Day camps are closed for the next month as part of the provincial shutdown, though summer restrictions have yet to be decided.

Appleyard said beyond testing for anyone entering camp, the OCA hopes to limit transmission through cleanliness protocols and limiting campers to smaller groups. It is providing information and training to its members about best practices.

Losing another summer would hurt, Appleyard said, with his members unable to adapt with curbside service such as other sectors.

“There’s no question it would be a very serious financial consequence,” Appleyard said. “It would certainly jeopardize the future of the industry in Ontario.”

Binnie said he would be prepared to run at a lower capacity or just do day camp programming.

“We’ll continue to wait it out, but it’s obviously going to be tough,” Binnie said. “Going to be tough on a lot of camps and some of them may not be back.”

“We just really want to encourage families to engage as they feel safe and comfortable,” Sadlier said. “Engage with organizations that are working hard to offer positive experiences for their kids.”

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