The Unexpected Positive Outcomes for Summer Camps in the Time of COVID-19


  • Tracey Gaslin
  • Alexsandra Dubin
  • Jacob Sorenson Outdoor Ministries Connection
  • Nila Rosen Foundation for Jewish Camping
  • Barry Garst
  • Beth Schultz



The COVID-19 pandemic completely upended the camping industry, posing unique and significant challenges to the camp industry, with many camps choosing not to operate in the summer of 2020. These cancelled programs resulted in staff layoffs and serious loss of revenue. Some state requirements necessitated camp closures, while other camps closed due to uncertainty about the ability to provide a safe, healthy camp experience that retained the essence of summer camp via the expected summer camp culture. The small portion of camps that did open were forced to be creative in how they offered programs. Some camps chose to run limited in-person programs, some offered family camps for family units, while others transitioned to virtual camp experiences.  For these camps that did run in some capacity, several national organizations were able to gather data regarding operational challenges and benefits.


This project examined the research findings from the American Camp Association, Association of Camp Nursing, Foundation for Jewish Camps, and Outdoor Ministries Connection. This cross-organizational analysis highlights the experiences of camps offering in-person summer programs and services in implementing nonpharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) to minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission in 2020. Camps used a variety of NPI’s that involved both personal responsibility and community cooperation in order to create a camp experience that was socially distant and as sanitary as possible. This study also examines the experiences of camps offering virtual programs and services as a means to connect with individuals and support socialization needs of youth. These virtual programs varied widely, but all provided youth the opportunity to connect with like-minded campers and staff to have community building experiences despite isolation.


In the context of many COVID-19 challenges, this study identifies positive outcomes associated with operating camp in the summer of 2020. These unexpected positive outcomes encompass health center operations, food service, programmatic changes, changes to the structure of camper units, and a shifting focus towards mental, emotional, and social health. Many of these positive outcomes are perceived by camp administrators as beneficial changes that will likely remain after the pandemic and continue to impact the camping industry for the foreseeable future.





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