A child jumps into the pool during her first swim of the camp.
A child jumps into the pool during her first swim of the Boys & Girls Club ZAC Camps in July 2018. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

On June 1, the Boys & Girls Clubs will reopen for summer camps, CEO Angie Mock said.

“We have told ourselves all along, we have to find a way to reopen in the summer to help families in San Antonio who need us most,” she said.

On Monday, Gov. Greg Abbott issued a new executive order allowing more businesses and activities to resume operations, as well as expanding the in-person capacity limit in certain businesses such as restaurants. Day care centers can open immediately, he said, while summer programs, day and overnight camps, and youth sports can begin on May 31. Summer school classes can start on June 1.

Across San Antonio, organizations are retooling their summer camp operations to fit the coronavirus guidelines after the Governor’s Strike Force issued new “Open Texas” health guidelines on Monday. Under “Day Youth Camps,” the group recommends extra cleaning and sanitation, as well as directing youth camps to consider having all staff members wear face coverings. 

Though none of these guidelines are legal mandates, summer camps already had similar precautions in mind. At the YMCA of Greater San Antonio, which will begin summer camps on June 1, all facilities will be cleaned midday and undergo a deep cleaning at the close of business, said Debbie Degollado, the executive director of youth development at YMCA of Greater San Antonio. The organization also has adjusted its operations to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.

“We will still have summer fun activities, but we are being very cautious and keeping kids in small groups this summer, so we won’t have big opening camp ceremonies,” Degollado said. “We’ll stay in our small groups throughout the camp day, and continue with traditional activities – gym activities, arts and crafts, water days, field days.”

Boys & Girls Clubs will take even greater precautions to ensure the safety of its campers and staff by capping its camp attendance at about 25 percent of its usual capacity in an attempt to prevent coronavirus transmission, Mock said.

During a typical summer, the Boys & Girls Clubs welcome about 1,000 kids, but in June, that will shrink to about 300. Parents already have been registering their kids for summer day camp at all San Antonio Boys & Girls Clubs locations, Mock said, and she expects a lengthy waitlist.

“Sadly, we’re going to have to turn people away,” she said. “There’s more demand than we have at this reduced capacity level. But our plan is: if there is containment, and we operate safely, then we will begin to add capacity in phases. Maybe as early as June 15, we will add another layer of capacity. And if things continue to do well, we’ll ratchet it up another level.”

Some summer camps are foregoing the season altogether. The Laity Lodge Youth Camp, which is run by the H. E. Butt Foundation, is one of several summer programming staples for the organization that will not open, Perri Rosheger, vice president of community engagement and communications at the H. E. Butt Foundation, said. Typically, there are four two-week sessions and one one-week session of the faith-based youth camp during the summer. This is the first time all summer programming from H. E. Butt Foundation has been canceled since 1954, Rosheger said. The youth camp was interrupted once in 2009, during the swine flu pandemic.

“It was the right decision for us to now be concerned about kids and the staff and not doing very large gatherings,” Rosheger said.

Assistant City Manager Colleen Bridger said Monday that even though coronavirus symptoms have overall been less severe in children, she still would encourage child care centers to practice social distancing, frequent hand washing, and have staff wear masks.

“Making sure that all of our childcare facilities are doing everything they can to decrease the risk of infection is still critically important for the rest of the community to make sure that the kids in the childcare settings don’t bring COVID-19 home to parents and grandparents,” she said.

Having infection prevention precautions in place is important to Hazel Davis, who has made plans to send 9-year-old daughter Cara to her usual summer camp at the Jewish Community Center in June. The camp’s director continues to update parents on health prevention measures the camp will take, she said, and is working on a drop-off and pick-up plan that minimizes in-person interactions.

“I’m nervous,” she said. “I think we’re all a little bit nervous about moving more toward where we used to be. But I’ve had a very long relationship with the folks at the JCC, and I think that knowing them and the quality of care, and also what they’re currently doing for essential workers’ childcare has given me a lot of faith about going ahead and sending her.”

The YMCA is using a similar dropoff and pickup protocol, where parents stay outside of the building, Degollado said. But even with coronavirus-prevention measures in mind, some parents aren’t ready to take their kids to camp.

“If other people feel comfortable risking their kids they are free to do so,” Faith Rochester said in a Facebook comment Monday. “I’m lucky enough to work from home, so I won’t be. I don’t really think I would be anyway, though. Not worth it for us.”

Olivia, who asked only to be identified by her first name, said she would not send her 7-year-old son to his usual summer camp this year, echoing Rochester’s sentiment that it would not be worth the risk. Though she understands daycares act as essential services, Olivia feels that summer camps and youth sports do not.

“This is what, our third round of reopening now? And there hasn’t been enough time for us to even see what the effects of the first two rounds of reopening are going to be on the numbers of the virus in Texas,” she said. “I just don’t feel like it’s warranted at this time.”

Camps can serve as support for low-income families who have struggled during the past two months of distance learning with schools shut down. The YMCA surveyed community members to ask about their needs and safety concerns, marketing and communications director Stephanie Chavira said. Parents have asked for educational support to make up for the “learning loss” their kids have experienced.

“These youth have had almost in a way, two months taken from them,” she said. “There’s been learning loss and they haven’t had a chance to be a kid. Those are reasons why it’s really important for us to go full steam ahead and offer summer day camps.”

The Boys & Girls Clubs also will prioritize helping campers with their learning loss when their doors open, Mock said. In the interim, the organization has focused on food distribution.

“When we surveyed our families, in the very first week of this, almost 80 percent of families told us they were worried how they’d feed their kids,” she said. 

But as the Boys & Girls Clubs and other children’s organizations plan for the summer, Mock noted they need to be looking even further ahead.

“What we’re talking about right now is summer,” she said. “We’ll do a great job for as many kids as we can get into the program. But what we really need to be talking about is the rest of 2020 and all of 2021. Because this has a far, far-reaching impact on low-income neighborhoods. Summer is one thing, but we really need to be thinking longer-term than that.”

Disclosure: Boys & Girls Clubs CEO Angie Mock is a member of the Rivard Report board.

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.