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For so many families, COVID-19 has wrecked the school year. It now threatens to ruin summer camp, too.

“Every parent I know is in a tailspin,” said Genevieve McCormack, 44, of Haverford, a lawyer and mother of three children whose plans for camp were upended.

“Camp is on everyone’s mind in my world. But instead of summer being something to look forward to, it’s an object of dread.”

Parents counting on camp for child care, or simply to occupy and enrich their kids for eight weeks, are facing an uncertain season. Not all facilities can offer straightforward answers on whether there’ll be s’mores and campfires in July and August.

“It’s a tricky situation,” said Tom Harris, owner and director of Blue Bell Camp in Montgomery County. “It’s uncharted territory.”

Many camps held on university campuses have indicated they’ll close. Meanwhile, Julian Krinsky Residential Camps & Programs, the King of Prussia-based institution that boasts 115,000 alumni worldwide from more than 40 years in business, has announced it will shutter forever.

Most others sit in an uneasy limbo, awaiting guidelines from a national camp organization. Camp directors must then decide whether they can follow those rules — if governors allow camps to open at all.

Anticipating new safety decrees, camp personnel are calculating how many beds to allow in cabins; when during a softball game to disinfect the bats; how to feed 500 campers and staff without allowing them to sit together in the dining hall.

“Camps are about social interaction, not social distancing,” said Andrew Yankowitz, owner and director of Tall Pines Day Camp in Williamstown, Gloucester County. About 40% of its 700 campers come from Center City, paying as much as $5,400 a summer.

“Camp directors are naturally the most optimistic people in the most optimistic industry," he said. “But we’re unsure of what’s happening. We still don’t know if we can pull it off.”

A ‘camp-heavy community'

Camp is a big part of the culture in the Philadelphia area, especially on the Main Line, “a very camp-heavy community,” according to Maria Stroup, director of Impact Center in Haverford, a nonprofit that connects socially conscious youngsters with community organizations.

While tens of thousands of camps pop up throughout America, a relative few are licensed by their states: 710 in Pennsylvania and 1,020 in New Jersey, according to an executive of the American Camp Association (ACA), headquartered in Martinsville, Ind.

“There’s an exodus from the area to camps that goes on during the summer," Stroup said. "But now, parents and children are at a loss.”

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McCormack, of Haverford, and her husband, William, 45, an investor, had it all worked out: Daughter Hadley, 15, was accepted by the USRowing Youth Olympic Development Program, run through a consortium of St. Joseph’s, Drexel, and Temple Universities. Her twin, Ted, was going to do a robotics lab at Temple. And Campbell, 12, was set to work as a counselor-in-training at a day camp run by Germantown Friends School, which all three siblings attend.

In a succession of disappointments, rowing and robotics were canceled while the day camp moved online.

“I was really looking forward to working with kids,” Campbell said. “I’m not sure what my summer will be now.”

Her mother thinks she knows: “a yawning expanse of continued solitude."

For Melinda Engel of Center City, who has enrolled her sons, Skyler, 11, and Liam, 8, at both Tall Pines and Pinemere Camp, an overnight site in the Poconos, the way forward hasn’t emerged yet.

“We want our kids to get off electronics and socialize in fresh air,” said Engel, 42, who does recruiting for a staffing agency. “They need camp more than ever."

Still, she said, "I also have to think about safety. Kids can forget themselves and do things like hug each other. I’m not sure what to do, but our hope for camp is dwindling.”

Skyler understands. “I feel so empty, because I’ve been waiting for camp all year,” said the fifth grader from Perelman Jewish Day School in Wynnewood. "Camp lifts my spirits. I’m a different person there — happier.”

With one camp that she’d chosen suddenly closing and another still up in the air, Emily Otto, 39, a physical therapist from Ardmore, has decided to hire a part-time nanny to look after her two daughters, ages 9 and 6. “The camp that’s not sure yet tried to wheel me and deal me and take 15% off my $1,200 deposit,” Otto said. “But I said I need the money for the nanny.”

Camps say they are still working out refund policies.

For Danielle Trucksess of Rosemont, camp plans are collapsing, with one place she’d considered for her 6-year-old daughter going online only. The 44-year-old psychologist said, “We now face a drastically different summer: an inflated pool and a sprinkler."

‘You create a bubble’

Working with pediatricians as well as a national engineering firm, the ACA is creating a set of pandemic-related guidelines, scheduled to be released Friday.

“I believe there’s a way to do it,” said Susie Lupert, executive director of the ACA of New York and New Jersey, who also works with Pennsylvania camps. “You can’t reopen the economy unless you have somewhere to put children.”

Lupert said that no one expects campers to wear masks or stand six feet apart. Any accredited camp, she emphasized, must have a medical staff. “The percentage of children getting coronavirus is extraordinarily low,” Lupert added, although she acknowledged recent cases of children displaying a pediatric inflammatory syndrome linked to COVID-19 that has parents frightened.

“Ultimately,” she said, “if we can’t open camps in a safe manner, we won’t. There’s no fight in this. If the answer is no, it’s no.”

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Beth Goldstein, summer program consultant with Camp Experts, an international organization with offices in Wynnewood and New York that matches campers with camps, said that overnight camps may have an advantage in beating back COVID-19. They can quarantine workers two weeks before children arrive. When they do, they’re screened, even tested if that’s possible. Neither the campers nor anyone who works there would be allowed to leave.

“You create a bubble,” said Goldstein. “It becomes an extension of home. Everyone is quarantined together.”

In such cases, camp would likely be reduced from eight weeks to possibly four, said Marc Rouch, director of Camp Kinder Ring in Dutchess County, N.Y., about 70 minutes north of New York City. The camp takes in numerous children from Philadelphia and New Jersey.

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One problem, Rouch allowed, is that many overnight camps rely on international staff, most of whom would be unable to travel here.

“Then there’s the million-dollar question,” said Rouch, a child psychologist. “What if COVID comes in mid-season? Or what if a camper breaks his leg, has to leave for X-rays, then return? You’re breaking the bubble.”

With no safety bubble, day camps would have to screen children each day, Goldstein said. And transportation becomes a problem, since kids are either driven by car, van, or bus to camp, an exposure risk.

That’s too much worry for Deborah Drucis, 46, of Williamstown, a real estate investor who’s pulling her two sons, ages 13 and 9, out of Twin Pines.

“I can’t believe we live in a world where we have to make such choices,” she said. “But this stopped us dead in our tracks. To think about my kids outside my grasp is unfathomable now.”

Such vigilance is not without cost. “I stomped upstairs to my room when they closed my camp" in Montgomery County, said Sadie Katz, 8, of the Graduate Hospital section of Philadelphia. "It was my first sleep-away, so awesome. God. Then it all went down the drain.

“My mom said be patient, but I already waited a year for this. Who knows how many more years I’ll wait.”