Kanakuk Kamps, a popular network of Christian sports camps in southern Missouri which has welcomed more than 450,000 campers since 1926, was forced to shutter one of its multiple sites Friday after some 49 campers and counselors tested positive for COVID-19.
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services confirmed in a Springfield News-Leader report that the infections are tied to Kanakuk Kamp's K-2 campsite in Lampe. Kanakuk Kamps had five overnight camps in operation this season including the K-2 site, according to its website.
"Our K-2 camp (ages 13-18) will be closed for the remainder of this term, and all campers from the current term are returning home with the recommendation to families to quarantine their households for 14 days,” Kanakuk Communications Director Jeff Mason said in a statement.
“We were prepared for this possibility and responded quickly to implement the proper health and safety protocols to identify, isolate and respond to any COVID 19-like symptoms. Our Health Task Force is working to ensure this process is handled with the utmost care and caution. So far this summer, over 5,000 campers and staff have enjoyed a fun, safe, and wholesome Kanakuk summer camp experience in the beautiful Ozarks,” he continued.
The Stone County Health Department said the infected campers and counselors traveled from 10 states and multiple Missouri counties.
Mason noted that local health officials and parents of campers at all of its locations had been notified of the virus outbreak while pointing out that most of the cases were "given to us from parents of asymptomatic campers who already returned home."
Kanakuk Kamps is among several camps across the country that opted to continue operating in the summer despite the pandemic, there appears to be a sort of consensus now that there can be no guarantee that any campsite will be COVID-19 free.
“This situation continues to change daily, and as such, we will adapt and adjust our protocols and procedures as we follow the guidance provided by the CDC and local health departments, in our efforts to help keep our Kampers, staff, and families safe,” Kanakuk Kamps said in a statement on their website regarding COVID-19.
“Ultimately, the choice for your child to attend summer camp at Kanakuk is a personal one, and you are in control. If you are uncomfortable with the risks of COVID-19 in a summer camp setting, having to travel to one of our locations, or having your child interact with our staff and other Kampers, we have several options available to you, including a full refund or moving your child’s term to Summer 2021,” the camp network noted.
Medical experts like Dr. Jessica Justman, an epidemiologist and associate professor of medicine at Columbia University's Irving Medical Center, told NBC News that she now questions the feasibility of summer camp amid the coronavirus.
"I think that with the increasing number of cases in so many states now, I am more concerned than I was before about the feasibility of summer camp," Justman said. "These things do always come down to individual judgments and decisions that parents have to make.”
Dr. David Cennimo, an infectious disease expert at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, said what happens at camps this summer could be a harbinger of how life will unfold when children return to school in the fall.
"One of the more pressing things is we need to have a conversation, if we're going to do this, about what does it look like if cases occur, because I don't believe that will be 100 percent safe, or I will say 100 percent infection-free," he said.
"In some ways, especially the day camp scenario is kind of a dry run for school," he added. "If we're not able to pull off day camps, I don't know how we open schools."