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Scores of Summer Day Camps in Limbo as City Scrambles to Okay Reopenings

The Marlene Meyerson JCC summer camp was forced to close during the coronavirus outbreak.
The Marlene Meyerson JCC summer camp was forced to close during the coronavirus outbreak.
Courtesy of the Marlene Meyerson JCC

More than half of city day camps seeking to open this summer are awaiting approval to get going, records show — leaving thousands of children and parents in limbo.

Some 228 day camp applications are pending before the city’s Health Department, the agency charged with making sure they are safe and up to code. Another 145 applications have already been approved, according to city records.

The backlog follows Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s decision on June 2 — just a few weeks before day camps would normally open — to allow them to operate amid a drop in COVID-19 cases. The state took another week to issue updated safety guidelines.

“Unfortunately, for some camp programs, this was too late,” said Susie Lupert, executive director of the American Camp Association of New York and New Jersey.

Last summer, the city approved around 600 day camp applications, almost double the number even looking to open this year.

“Camps just didn’t have the resources to make the changes or didn’t have enough outdoor space to be able to run the program outdoors so they had to make the difficult decision to not open,” Lupert added.

Among those that decided to skip this summer: Bank Street, Dodge YMCA, Cross Island YMCA and West Side YMCA.

That’s put many parents who depend on summer camp for childcare during the summer in a state of flux, while leaving their kids without a structured and supervised program after being out of classrooms since mid-March.

“City kids also don’t always have easy access to green space, so this could also mean a summer spent indoors,” Lupert said.

Under Review

Many of the outstanding day camp applications are being reviewed to ensure the spaces operators requested are available, said Stephanie Buhle, a Health Department spokesperson. Other applications are incomplete due, in some cases, to missing documents, she added.

“We are working to review the remaining applications as quickly as possible,” she said.

Staffers at the agency use the application to make sure the proposed locations meet all health code requirements, including a safe and well-maintained facility. The review also ensures there’s an appropriate staff-to-child ratio and proper plans in place in case of an emergency.

The new health guidelines require staff members to wear masks at all times. Camps also must regularly sanitize their facilities and equipment, and provide hand washing and sanitizing stations. Everyone must undergo daily temperature checks, and field trips are banned.

Some of the camps approved by the city, or had their applications submitted before COVID-19 hit, have decided not to open due to the restrictions.

“It felt like I was signing up to play a game without knowing what the rules are,” said Genna Singer, director of camps at the Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan, who applied in early March.

The staff made the “gut wrenching” decision to cancel its day camps on the Upper West Side and in Rockland County a day before the state issued its guidelines, she said. Last year, 240 younger kids attended the location on Amsterdam Avenue and 76th Street and some 325 kids, almost all from Manhattan, bused to the Rockland spot.

“To not be watching hundreds of kids run to lunch right now is crazy,” she said as she looked out at the 22-acre Camp Settoga site in Rockland County. “By nature, camp directors like challenges but also like solutions. It hurt so much this was one we could not figure out.”

At least one camp, Oasis in Central Park, was forced to close because the operator was unable to get a permit from the city’s Parks Department, according to someone familiar with the decision. The camp had used Central Park as a main staging area for its activities.

After consulting the federal and state safety guidelines, the camp announced on its website that “it became increasingly clear that the viability of running a program that was up to the standards of safety, fun, and caring that we strive for was impossible to guarantee.”

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