Daily temperature checks, masks, small groups and curbside drop-offs are some of the things children and parents will likely see at summer camps and summer school during phase one of the state’s reopening, pursuant to updated guidelines from the Louisiana Department of Education issued on Wednesday.

The guidance came two days after Gov. John Bel Edwards announced the state would enter the first phase of reopening on Friday when his stay-at-home order expires. Mayor LaToya Cantrell also confirmed the city would begin reopening this weeked, though with greater restrictions than Edwards outlined for the state. Schools have been closed through the end of the academic year. 

But as more parents are expected to return to work in the coming weeks, many had been wondering whether summer camps would be allowed to open and, if so, how they would operate safely.  Edwards’ administration has answered the first question: day camps will be allowed under phase one guidelines. (Sleepover camps will not be allowed.)

But camps will have to take steps to limit the risk of spreading COVID-19. 

The Department of Education guidelines focus on limiting social interaction, increasing sanitation and monitoring staff and students for symptoms. The document also guides staff through checking campers each day and what to do if they become ill during the day. 

Acting State Superintendent of Education Beth Scioneaux said the seven-page document was created to show camp staff “how to navigate these protective measures in real-life settings.”

The guidance, produced in addition to advice from the Louisiana Department of Health, is also designed to guide safe practices for child care centers and summer extracurricular activities. 

Courtney Phillips, the secretary of the Department of Health, said summer activities must move forward with caution.

“Allowing access to summer camps and summer school is critical so parents can return to work and so that children can continue with their education, but opening these facilities can still carry a risk because of how easily COVID-19 is transmitted in congregate settings,” Phillips said in a state press release Wednesday.

When summer camps begin, the state warns, staff and children showing symptoms or who have a temperature higher than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit should not be allowed in. Parents must also confirm each day that their children haven’t taken fever reducing medication in the preceding 24 hours, which could lower their temperature below the threshold required for attendance.

Initially, camp and activity groups will be limited to 10 people, including adults. The groups must have the same members for the entirety of the summer program. The department is calling these “static” groups. Groups gathering indoors must be separated by walls or partitions, and spaces must be cleaned before and after use. Outdoor groups don’t need physical barriers between them, but contact sports are prohibited

When contact sports are allowed, in a far-from-now-feeling phase three of reopening, they can only be conducted within a group. In phase one, swimming is allowed as long as lane lines are used to separate swimmers.

Cantrell’s reopening plan similarly limits groups to 10 in phase one and prohibits contact sports. 

A Cantrell spokesman told The Lens that summer camp operators must register with the State Fire Marshal’s Office at the state’s new “Open Safely” website. “They will then be sent the detailed guidance required to reopen.” 

Mandatory registration is one way in which the city’s guidelines are stricter than the state’s. Edwards is encouraging businesses to register, but the state is not requiring it as a condition of reopening.

Earlier this week, New Orleans Recreation Development Commission spokeswoman Ashlei Morrison confirmed plans are in the works for opening its summer camps

“At this time NORD is moving forward with plans to host some summer camps and making preparations to do that as safely as possible,” she wrote in an email. “This would include measures like social distancing and small group sizes.”

Morrison said the agency doesn’t have a confirmed date for when camps will open. 

Many New Orleans schools are also planning to offer summer school.

The NOLA Public Schools district had previously said its facilities would remain closed until the fall, but some charters own their own buildings or lease them from property owners other than the district. It’s unclear if any schools would try to open their buildings, but late Wednesday, the district sent a statement saying any summer school would be conducted virtually. The district did not answer questions about whether charters had the ability to open buildings.

Still, some high schools had planned to open their buildings later this month for several intimate graduation celebrations that consist of one student, a few family members and faculty. That way seniors can walk across the stage to receive their diploma. 

On-site safety

The guidelines detail recommendations on everything from transportation to health checks and what to do if a student becomes sick at the facility. 

If they are able, the state Office of Public Health recommends children over the age of two wear cloth masks. 

When children arrive, the state recommends parents use curbside drop-off and pick-up to limit their contact with staff members. If a child needs to be met by a staff member, it must be someone within their static group. 

The guidelines also suggest staggering drop-off and pick-up times to reduce crowding of children.

During the day, students and staff must wash their hands at least every two hours and after a laundry list of actions, such as playing on playgrounds or in sand. The state recommends students with underlying health conditions have their doctor’s approval to participate in summer camps. 

If a child becomes sick during the day, they should be isolated under staff member’s supervision until a parent or guardian can pick them up. The room must be deep-cleaned after the child goes home. 

If that person is confirmed to have COVID-19, the building must be deep cleaned. Guidelines recommend waiting 24 hours to clean the room so respiratory droplets can settle onto surfaces.

The outlines also have specific recommendations for food service workers and bus drivers.

Marta Jewson

Marta Jewson covers education in New Orleans for The Lens. She began her reporting career covering charter schools for The Lens and helped found the hyperlocal news site Mid-City Messenger. Jewson returned...