COVID Outbreak at Camp Kef Cancels Week

Campers now have to wear masks at Camp Kef following a COVID outbreak in late July. Photo by Janine Nelson

For most of the summer, Camp Kef thrived.

Between 450 and 465 kids enjoyed a maskless, post-COVID experience at the Kaiserman JCC.

But in late July, a COVID outbreak spread to 12 campers and staff members, forcing JCC officials to close camp fora week.

Camp Kef reopened Aug. 2 with mask, social distancing and testing mandates for all campers and staff members. Kaiserman CEO Alan Scher said the lost week will not be made up in August due to post-camp programming. But he also said that parents who want their money back for the five missed camp days will get a refund.

The CEO believes that, by deciding July 24 to cancel camp for the upcoming week, his team stopped the spread at 12 cases. He also thinks that Camp Kef is set to finish the summer strong.

Kef’s expansive JCC facility and outdoor space should allow for appropriate social distancing. On top of that, 100% of staffers who interact with campers are vaccinated, according to Scher.

All other Kaiserman activities, like adult basketball and the pool, are still open, just with enhanced masking protocols.

“We figured out everything,” Scher said.

The CEO credited the Montgomery County Health Department for guiding his team. Throughout the weekend of July 24, the JCC and Montgomery County teams worked together on contact tracing, communication with parents, enhanced protocols and a plan for the rest of the summer.

According to Kelly Cofrancisco, the communications director for Montgomery County, Camp Kef’s outbreak was not severe by pandemic standards. Cofrancisco called it “a very typical kind of outbreak that our office of public health has been dealing with for the entirety of the pandemic.”

She also said the county usually recommends shutting down for a week, completing contact tracing and then reopening with enhanced safety protocols. So, that’s what county officials told the JCC to do.

County officials trust the Kaiserman JCC to reopen because Camp Kef’s pre-summer plan, submitted to the health department for approval, was fully compliant, Cofrancisco said.

Camp Kef has ample outdoor space to keep campers and counselors at a social distance, according to Kaiserman JCC CEO Alan Scher. Photo by Matt Martin

“We’re confident that working together we can suppress any potential for a larger outbreak,” she said.

At the same time, with the delta variant in the air, the enhanced safety standards and the potential for another small outbreak are probably not going anywhere. Montgomery County’s seven-day average rose by 13 daily COVID cases in late July.

Its positivity rate ticked up from 1.28 to 2.13, though it would require a 5% clip for the CDC to consider transmission “high,” according to Cofrancisco. Unless the transmission rate reaches that level, the county will not recommend that institutions, organizations and businesses enforce a general mask mandate.

As of now, that is still a choice.

“We’ve seen slight upticks but we’re not at the point yet where we’ve changed our guidance,” Cofrancisco said.

Peter Gaskill, a Bala Cynwyd resident and the parent of two Kef campers, believes the JCC is doing a good job because it’s listening to the county.

“If you ask me what constitutes careful thought about something, respond to the facts as they are, not as what you want them to be,” Gaskill said.

The father appreciated that camp officials told parents about each case. He said the transparency helped parents understand if their kids were exposed and if they were capable of spreading the virus to adults.

“They are voluntarily making less money and taking a whole lot of slings and arrows from the community to stand up for our kids’ health,” Gaskill added of the JCC.

Finally, the father pointed to the JCC’s handling of the pandemic situation over the past year as a reason to trust it for the rest of the summer. Kaiserman reopened for camp last summer and had no cases until this outbreak.

“They’ve been extremely careful,” he concluded.

Gaskill and his wife, Aviva, both work from home and were inconvenienced by their kids staying home, but nothing more.

And while they are not crazy about sending their sons, 5 and 8, respectively, back to camp with restrictions — like wearing masks in the heat — they still believe it’s better for them than staying home.

During the lockdown in the spring of 2020, the boys eventually started fighting because they were restless.

“They need to socialize,” Gaskill said.

Scher’s 7-year-old daughter will return for the final weeks of camp as well.

During the open week, the Mt. Airy resident took her to get a COVID test at a CVS five minutes from their home. It was negative.

“It couldn’t have been easier,” he said.

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