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Breaking it Down: The ACA 2020 Camp Guidelines

camp's going to look a little different this year

Recently, the American Camp Association (ACA) released 2020 operation guidelines with COVID-19 considerations. Below is a broad overview of what the ACA includes in its guidelines including some things you need to know about how camps are expected to operate.

The guide states that “the recommendations provided are to be implemented for various types of camps (adventure/touring, day, resident, backcountry and weekend) and geographic locations. The recommendations also pertain to camps in geographical locations under low and medium mitigation conditions, according to federal guidance.”

The ACA notes that the CDC has laid out a three-step camp decision tool to determine whether a camp should open with criteria that must be met before moving on to the next step. The ACA recommends camps use this tool to determine if they should open or not.

The guidelines cover many areas of concern, including: communication, health screenings, the response and management of probable and confirmed cases, guidance on preventing spread, facilities management, physical distancing, housing, bathrooms, sleeping arrangements, aquatic facilities, food service and more.

All recommendations detail what should be followed by campers, as well as camp staff and employees.

In each section, the ACA lists out one or more “Best Practices”—what the ACA considers to be the best option to follow—and details the research that was used to determine the recommendation. If you have questions regarding how the ACA came to a conclusion, the link at the bottom of the article provides some insight.

Below are a handful of ACA recommendations by section:


  • Camp administration should be in regular contact with campers, parents/legal guardians, staff and vendors.
  • Camps are to designate at least one qualified person from the medical or administrative staff to act as the primary contact for campers, parents/legal guardians and staff.
  • Camps should prepare and distribute policy guidelines for staff.
  • Camps should prepare and distribute documents that explain rules and guidelines for parents/legal guardians and campers.
  • Camps should have relevant posters and signage from the CDC and the WHO.
  • Prior to camp, staff should identify which campers and adults are at higher risks for COVID-related complications.
  • Prior to camp, camps should inform parents of the precautions and procedures implemented to minimize risk of exposure and recommend parents consult their child’s medical provider to determine if attendance is possible.
  • During camp, camps are to keep parents up to date on COVID as it relates to the camp with newsletters or other communication.
  • In the case of a confirmed or suspected case, camps are to refer to its Communicable Disease Plan (CDP) or applicable child care standards, and interview the confirm or suspected case. Camps should then begin contact tracing with local and state health resources. Camps are to maintain confidentiality during this situation.
  • In the event of a potential exposure, camps are to immediately inform parents about any potential contact their children may have had with suspected or confirmed cases and if their children are experiencing any symptoms.
  • Camps are to coordinate with local health officials.
  • Camps are to notify local health officials of suspected and confirmed cases immediately, and seek guidance to determine whether to dismiss or end camp early.


  • ACA provides three screening phases—pre-screening, initial health screening and ongoing screening—that can be used by camp healthcare staff to identify campers and staff that might have a respiratory infection or might require additional consideration before admittance or continued participation.


  • If a staff member or camper is identified as having a potential or confirmed COVID case, the individual should be isolated. ACA outlines a suggested protocol.


  • Camps should post CDC instructions and resources near appropriate areas. For example, signage about hand washing should be near bathrooms, and social distancing guidelines should be posted in common areas.
  • ACA provides information on how to wash hands, how to use alcohol-based hand sanitizer and hand washing misconceptions.
  • Staff is to report any COVID symptoms to their supervisors; if staff reports respiratory illness symptoms, they are to stay home.
  • If staff reports symptoms during work, they are to be sent home immediately.


  • Camps should follow CDC guidelines for physical distancing through increased spacing, small groups and limiting mixing between groups. Camps should also provide staggered scheduling, arrival and drop off if feasible.


  • Camps should keep the same staff members and campers assigned to a cabin throughout the camp; camps should not rotate staff or campers between cabins.
  • Camps should limit access to cabins to only those residing there.
  • All cabin residents are to use the hand sanitizer dispensers at the entrance of the cabin prior to entering.
  • Camps should instruct campers and staff to avoid sharing items with cabin mates.
  • Cabins should be cleaned routinely.
  • Personal belongings are to be limited to essential items and limited number of non-essential items.
  • Campers should keep personal belongings organized and separate from others.


  • Campers are to avoid sharing bathroom supplies.
  • Campers are to keep personal items separate in their bag or tote.
  • Camps should have soap, toilet paper and paper towels stocked at all times.
  • Camps should create a staggered bathroom schedule and limit the number of people using the facilities at one time.


  • If possible, there should be at least 6-feet of space between beds. If head-to-toe orientation is used, 4-feet is acceptable.
  • Camps can use common spaces as sleeping areas to minimize the number of people sleeping in a space.
  • ACA provides recommendations on how best to set up beds and bunk beds as well as best practices for cleaning bedding.


  • ACA states that the CDC has found “there is no evidence showing anyone has gotten COVID-19 through drinking water, recreational water, or wastewater. The risk of COVID-19 transmission through water is expected to be low.” The ACA suggests camps follow safe physical distancing and proper hygiene practices at lakes, ponds, pools and recreational areas.
  • If personal flotation devices will be shared among campers, camps should follow the provided practices for proper cleaning.


  • Camps should stock disposable gloves, facemasks and cleaning supplies. Enact a plan for distribution and resupply of these items.
  • Staff should have access to soap and clean running water along with the above supplies.
  • Custodial staff should be provided with EPA-approved disinfectants.
  • Food service staff should be screened and have symptoms assessed at the start of every workday. COVID is not foodborne, but food service workers could transmit the virus if infected.
  • Dining space should be expanded or dining spaces should be increased to allow diners to maintain safe physical distance.
  • If possible, camps should offer multiple meal times in an expanded window to decrease the number of diners at a time.
  • Dining areas should be cleaned and disinfected between meal times.
  • Camps should prioritize and make outdoor seating available.
  • Camps should aim to decrease the occupancy density by half.
  • Camps should assign seats to diners for two weeks at a time or the duration of camp.
  • Diners are to wash hands with soap and water or use hand sanitizer prior to entering the dining area.

Editor’s Note: For a thorough understanding of the ACA’s guidelines, read through the full guidelines here. It is also important to note that the ACA states these materials reflect best available information at the time they were prepared. It is possible that recommendations will change.

Image courtesy of iStock.