The camp industry is one of the most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Social distancing is the exact opposite of what camp is about: a safe environment for kids to play, run, jump, be outdoors, and participate in team sports – not distantly or remotely. In the midst of the pandemic, camp directors have been forced to face an agonizing choice of cancelling camp in its entirety or opening and creating brand new procedures for doing so in a way that complies with myriad guidelines and requirements. Both camp directors and parents have had to balance the many positive aspects of camp against the more global fears about safety and affordability.
The legal underpinnings of this question are grounded in a camp’s duty of care, as well as the mutual expectations and obligations of camp owners and parents as communities cautiously return to the “new normal.” This blog and webinar address some of the questions to consider and protocols to follow to help minimize the possibility of COVID-19 infiltrating camp environments as well as protecting a camp against potential liability as much as possible.
Deciding to Re-Open
Camp Directors should, first and foremost, be carefully reviewing and dissecting each and every guideline issued by the CDC, the DOH, and their local and state laws regarding mandatory and suggested compliance. For each one, camps need to closely analyze how those guidelines will be implemented and monitored, and the cost to do so. Medical and other key staff should be consulted in this analysis.
Upon deciding to open, possibly the highest priority is to update your policies and procedures for the new circumstances that COVID-19 presents. Once finalized, the procedures should be communicated clearly and often to key and other staff. Ideally, camps should hold an initial training session as well as daily “huddles” to review and remind procedures, address any lapse in procedures from the day before, and discuss lessons learned from them. They should also hold a more in-depth weekly discussion to adjust the procedures as the summer unfolds. These sessions should be documented on a log or spreadsheet in case needed in the future to demonstrate the existence and enforcement of procedures.
Camps should also scrutinize their existing insurance policies. Camps face the usual calamities that summers present, like bites, bumps, and bruises, not to mention the measles outbreaks of the 2019 season. Contact your insurance broker to review your policies and determine whether pandemics and communicable airborne diseases are covered in your existing policies. If not, your broker should be able to advise whether additional coverage is available and the costs and deductibles involved.
The way disputes arise in the camping context is when a child is hurt and a business is sued for damages arising out of negligence. A successful claim for negligence requires certain elements, among them a duty of care, a breach of that duty, proximate causation of the injury resulting from the breach of a duty of care, and damages. A camp cannot be an insurer of everything that might go wrong. Although negligence for COVID-19 contraction has not yet been tested in the courts, it is not anticipated that a camp will be held to a standard of care that requires the camp to guarantee that the camp will be COVID-free for the entirety of the summer. What is important is that the camp adheres to the guidelines as they exist at the time and is able to establish that it rigorously implemented those guidelines and procedures.
Camps should also consider issuing guidance to parents for their part in the process, particularly for day camps. Such protocol would involve asking parents to confirm that their child will be tested for COVID-19 before attending camp and at regular intervals during the season (for day camps), that they will not send their child to camp if the child (or a member of the household) has a fever or is exhibiting other symptoms, and that they will observe social distancing and other precautions during off-camp times during the season. Camps could also consider asking parents to sign new contract provisions or waivers addressing COVID issues, specifically in accordance with the laws of the state where the camp is located.