Nurse Rona Dickman checks a camper for flu symptoms on the first day of the Gesher Summer Program at Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy in Livingston while director Scott Lantzman checks the scalp of another.
Photo courtesy Gesher Summer Program
July 2, 2009
Bathing suit? Check. Bug spray? Got it. Swine flu examination? Get in line. Summer camps got under way this week with a new ritual, as administrators took precautions against the aggressive flu strain.
As children arrived at the Gesher Summer Program on the campus of the Joseph Kushner Hebrew Academy in Livingston for their first day of camp June 29, one of the first people they met was the camp nurse. She checked them for lice, as she does every year on the first day.
But she also took the temperature of every camper and checked them for flu symptoms. And a handful were sent home with fever, although none exhibited secondary symptoms. All children sent home will be rechecked before being allowed to return to camp.
“When a child comes to camp, we want to make sure they are healthy,” said Gesher director Scott Lantzman. “Our business is worrying about children all the time. Our goal is for kids to stay healthy.”
Nearly every Jewish summer camp is taking similar measures. All sent letters to parents advising them of their procedures. Children with a fever of more than 100 degrees F and either a cough or sore throat are told to stay home seven days and return with a doctor’s note. Sleep-away camps are sending most campers home for a full week if they exhibit symptoms, or placing them in isolation if they live too far away to be sent home.
Sanitizing stations have become de rigueur in multiple locations all over camps this year.
In mid-June, the Foundation for Jewish Camp organized a series of conference calls with camp directors to discuss preventive measures.
At least one camp director, Len Robinson of New Jersey Y Camps, doesn’t think this year is much different from other years in terms of sickness.
“Every year we deal with illnesses at summer camp. This one has just received substantially more publicity.”
Still, he said, “We are taking the threat seriously and we are following the guidelines of the state of Pennsylvania,” where the six New Jersey Y Camps are located.
The camps, which had only partially opened at the time of the interview on June 29, had already sent home a handful of campers who arrived with symptoms. Robinson is also keeping his eye on campers with underlying medical issues, for whom the H1N1 virus can be more dangerous than in the general population.
“We’re watching them much more closely and working with their parents,” he said. But he pointed out that out of 2,100 campers at the six Y camps, there area just 35-40 with underlying conditions.
Camp Ramah in the Berkshires planned to greet campers boarding its buses on July 1 with a brief but pointed medical questionnaire. “Our goal is to prevent flu or H1N1 from entering into camp,” said director Paul Resnick.
But even with the precautions, Resnick acknowledged a certain reality. “There’s an eventuality that it might enter camp,” he said. In that case, children will be sent home for seven days. Two ailing counselors, responding to the precautions, arrived at camp late — one came up four days late, the other, seven days. Hand sanitizers have been added at locations all over camp.
There is no touching, no high-fiving, no hugging, and no handshaking this summer at Camp Yavneh, a residential camp in New Hampshire that is affiliated with Hebrew College in Boston. Instead, administrators developed a “no-touching high five” that will presumably be all the rage this summer. Campers at Yavneh will also sleep head to toe rather than head to head, in order to reduce contagion.
No special precautions marked the first-day rituals for children arriving at JCC MetroWest’s Camp Deeny Riback in Flanders. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a heightened awareness of H1N1 at the day camp. According to spokesperson Catherine Kolbeck, all JCC MetroWest camps, from Deeny Riback to the specialty Triple Threat Theater Camp, will feature a heavy emphasis on hand washing and hand sanitizer this year. There will be hand sanitizer available on buses and during organized trips, and there are increased hand sanitizing stations throughout the Deeny Riback campus.
“There’s nothing specific to the first day of camp. We’re looking for it every day,” said Kolbeck, referring to flu symptoms. “Any child with a fever will be asked to leave,” she said.
Some camps around the country that opened earlier in June have already been dealing with the pandemic. Nine cases were confirmed at two Jewish camps in Texas. At Ramah Darom in Clayton, Ga., roughly 100 cases of flu-like symptoms have been reported, though a spokesperson said 70 percent of those have recovered and the camp is operating normally.
Ben Harris of JTA contributed national reporting to this article.