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Is the latest summer camp COVID-19 guidance too strict? Some experts think so

Dr. Ashish Jha also weighs in on the “carrots and sticks” approach for convincing the vaccine-weary.

The CDC last week released guidelines for operating summer camps during COVID-19. Some experts are calling them too strict.
The CDC last week released guidelines for operating summer camps during COVID-19. Some experts are calling them too strict.Anatoliy - stock.adobe.com

As scores of summer camps across the state prepare to welcome kids back — some as early as next week — organizers and parents are eyeing the latest guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for protecting campers and staff against COVID-19.

The guidance, released last week, states that masks must be worn at all times — even by vaccinated adults — and kids as young as two. There are exceptions for some activities such as eating, drinking, or swimming. Kids and staff must also maintain six feet of social distancing at all times, and three feet if they are within the same “pod” or cohort. Six feet of social distance must be maintained during meals. The CDC also urges campers not to share toys, books, or games.

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The highly-anticipated guidance came after more than a year of remote learning in some cases, leaving many parents eager to find camps for their children and children eager to get out of the house. The guidance also came just days before the CDC announced it would ease its guidelines on wearing masks outdoors.

“I think the CDC is playing this super-duper safe,” said Dr. Ashish K. Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, in an interview on CNN Thursday night. “I think the summer camp guidelines are far too stringent.”

Jha continued that he believes the rules will be revised over the coming weeks “as evidence comes in.”

“They’re going to pull back on most of that stuff,” Jha said. “Outdoor mask mandates for kids in summer camp? I don’t think so.”

A group of 5,000 parents in Massachusetts on Thursday signed and sent a letter to Governor Baker’s office, requesting that the state “immediately” reevaluate the outdoor mask mandate for kids at school, camp, and during youth sports. The group, Bring Kids Back MA, also called on the Baker administration to remove school rules restricting the use of shared classroom materials, given that the virus mainly spreads person to person, and not through surfaces. Baker on Thursday acknowledged that he received the letter, but hadn’t read it yet.

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Jha’s statements echoed those of infectious disease specialist Dr. Anthony Fauci earlier this week, who said the CDC’s summer camp guidelines “certainly are conservative.” Fauci also said he believed the guidelines would continue to be reevaluated.

Plus, there is a chance that many kids could be vaccinated by the time some summer camps get started. The FDA is expected to authorize the Pfizer vaccine for adolescents ages 12 to 15 by next week.

According to a Kaiser Family Foundation survey monitoring vaccine hesitancy among parents, 29 percent of respondents said they would vaccinate their kids “right away,” 32 percent said they would “wait and see,” 15 percent said they would “if it were required,” and 19 percent said “definitely not.”

Jha remained optimistic in reviewing those numbers, noting that the majority of parents appear to be on the fence.

“I think that’s going to go really well because the data is really good,” Jha said. “I think most of those parents are going to jump off the fence and get their kids vaccinated.”

On the “carrots and sticks” approach for vaccinating the public, such as offering incentives like free beer, Jha said he’s on board: “If a carrot helps someone jump off the fence, I love it, I think it’s great.”

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Brittany Bowker can be reached at brittany.bowker@globe.com. Follower her on Twitter @brittbowker.