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YMCA Buffalo Niagara reports zero COVID outbreaks so far at summer camps

YMCA Buffalo Niagara has reduced the number of summer camp sites from 20 to 11 this year, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — National reports of an uptick in COVID-19 outbreaks at summer camps across several states is a rising cause for concern in many communities, especially as the upcoming school year approaches.

Over the last few weeks, there have been reports of positive cases popping up in: Texas, Kansas, Missouri, Ohio, and Illinois. 

Which begs the question: how are things going here?

2 On Your Side reached out to YMCA Buffalo Niagara for an update on cases. Danielle Roberts is the Executive Director of both the Delaware Family YMCA and William-Emslie Family YMCA in Buffalo and says so far there have been zero outbreaks to report across all 11 camp sites.

"I really feel confident in the YMCA and the way that we've approached summer camp," Roberts says. "I also feel confident in the way that the Y has supported having vaccination clinics. I know that we've held them at several of our locations across Western New York."

While vaccinations are not mandatory for campers or staff, Roberts says they are encouraged. The YMCA is also still practicing and implementing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention safety recommendations, including masking, heightened sanitation efforts, and social distancing.

A detailed breakdown of 2021 Summer Day Camp safety measures are also easily accessible on its website

 The Buffalo Niagara YMCA has also taken extra steps to ensure the safety not only of campers, but of staff by decreasing the number of campers and group size. 

"We have enrolled less campers this year. In the past we would have over 20 locations. This year across Western New York we have 11 locations, and spots are limited," Roberts says. 

While this is great news for the community-at-large, it by no means is a sign that people should be taking the pandemic any less seriously.

Dr. Nancy Nielsen is an associate dean specializing in public health at the Jacobs School of Medicine. She says the national trend in summer camp outbreaks is of great concern.

"We've seen tremendous outbreaks. We saw 125 cases at a summer camp in Texas, 85 cases at a summer camp in Illinois," Dr. Nielsen says. "If I were running a camp, I would simply insist that all staff and all kids 12 and older be vaccinated."

Dr. Nielsen has led the vaccine rollout here in Western New York and says one reason summer camps are a cause for concern is just given how relaxed they are in structure, making outbreaks harder to contain. 

"At camps kids congregate. They sing, they yell, you don't have that in a school, you have a much more structured environment," which on the contrary poses quite a challenge when trying to manage a potential outbreak, Dr. Nielsen said.

That said, Dr. Nielsen credits the YMCA as a whole on its approach to adopting and implementing public health guidelines and says its numbers are proof that following the right protocols work for the greater good.

If you are interested in enrolling your child or a loved one in one of the YMCA Buffalo Niagara camps and/or are looking for summer job opportunities, contact the YMCA. 

Visit the CDC for the latest guidelines on youth/summer camps.