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CDC: Camps can safely reopen without masks if everyone is fully vaccinated

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It is safe for youth summer camps to reopen without capacity limits and mask mandates if everyone at a camp is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The new guidelines released Friday mark a significant easing of prior recommendations and come after children as young as 12 became eligible for Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine earlier this month.

According to the guidance, both overnight and day camps whose attendees and staff are fully vaccinated against the virus before camp starts:

  • Can reopen safely without capacity limits, masking and social distancing.
  • Do not need to maintain routine surveillance testing.
  • Do not need to quarantine individuals not experiencing COVID symptoms who are exposed to someone with a suspected or confirmed case of the virus.

The CDC says, however, that while fully vaccinated people don’t need to wear masks, camp programs should be supportive of staff or campers who choose to wear one.

The CDC says its guidance is aimed at helping camp administrators operate camps while slowing COVID-19’s spread. It is also meant to “supplement—not replace—any federal, state, local, territorial, or tribal health and safety laws, rules, and regulations with which camps must comply.”

Given that children under 12 remain ineligible for the vaccine, many camps will likely have a mix of unvaccinated and vaccinated attendees and staff. For those camps, the CDC advises that:

  • Unvaccinated people over the age of 2 wear masks indoors and in crowded outdoor settings.
  • Unvaccinated people avoid playing close-contact and indoor sports.
  • Unvaccinated campers and staff avoid group gatherings, events and meetings where physical distancing can’t be maintained.
  • Staff and campers be placed in smaller groups, or “cohorts,” that remain together for an entire day and as much as possible during the duration of the camp.
  • Physical distancing of at least three feet be maintained within a cohort; Distancing of six feet be maintained outside a cohort and when kids are eating or drinking outside without masks, even among their cohort.

If fully vaccinated campers and staff are grouped together at camps that have a mix of vaccination statuses, those vaccinated people can follow the recommendations for people at fully vaccinated camps, Erin Sauber-Schatz, lead for the CDC’s Community Interventions and Critical Populations Task Force, told CBS News.

However, a benefit of grouping people with a mix of vaccination statuses together is that it could reduce the spread of COVID-19 if there’s an infection in a cohort, especially if preventative measures are implemented and maintained.

The agency advises that camps designate an area or room in the camp where people experiencing COVID-19 symptoms can be isolated. Individuals with COVID-19 can return 10 days after their symptoms began or since their first positive test as long as they’ve been fever-free for 24 hours without fever-reducing medication.

Those with weakened immune systems are advised to keep wearing masks and distancing “out of an abundance of caution.”

“Currently, we are still learning how well the COVID-19 vaccines protect people with weakened immune systems, including people who take immunosuppressive medications,” the CDC says. “Camp administrators should advise staff and parents/caregivers/guardians of campers with weakened immune systems on the importance of talking to their healthcare providers to discuss their activities and extra precautions they may need to keep taking to prevent COVID-19.”

If cases of COVID-19 arise, staff should work with local health officials to conduct contact tracing, according to the health agency.

The new guidelines come two weeks after the CDC said anyone who is fully vaccinated does not need to wear masks in most indoor settings. The agency clarified that children under 12 are considered “unvaccinated” given they do not qualify for the vaccine, and subsequently should continue wearing masks indoors and at crowded outdoor settings.

According to CDC data, children account for over 12% of cases nationwide, and 400 kids in the U.S. have died due to the virus since the pandemic began. And while kids now make up a larger portion of new infections as more adults get vaccinated, weekly data released by the American Academy of Pediatrics shows new infections in kids have been decreasing over the last two weeks. 

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