Running Summer Camps in the COVID-19 Pandemic Era

Image added March 16, 2020 from Anne Marie Darling

Published March 12, 2020 and last updated May 16, 2020

Health has always been the number one priority at Wolf Camp, as it should be for all educational programs. Being outdoors itself is a prime mitigation tool against the transmission of disease. We believe Wolf Camp has been and will continue to be one of the safest places for people to gather, and we are hopeful we can return to some normalcy soon. Washington State has unveiled a phased reopening for businesses and educational programs, but the details are still being clarified. We may be able to run certain in-person camps under Phase II rules under our 4-1 student-instructor autonomous group structure. Otherwise, we look forward to Phase III which will allow gatherings up to 50 people, but still maintain a 4-1 autonomous structure throughout the summer.

We have also updated our policies and procedures to exceed summer camp guidelines recently published regarding the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) and the disease it causes, Covid-19 in compliance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the Washington State Department of Health, as well as King and Pierce County (where we hold our programs), Washington State Parks for programs at Lake Sammamish/Hans Jensen Group Camp, the City of Puyallup Parks & Recreation for programs at Clark’s Creek Park, and the Washington State Department of Natural Resources for overnight wilderness programs.

Some of the changes we are making for in-person camps to protect participants and staff from exposure to the novel coronavirus include: 1) running programs at a 4-1 camper-instructor ratio corresponding to Phase II of the Washington State Business Opening Process ; 2) capping all camps at 50 participants including staff in compliance with Phase III guidelines when those come into play; and 3) multiple hygiene and logistical protocols such as a pick-up / drop-off procedures with campers exiting vehicles directly to a designated meeting point for their autonomous 4-1 camp group, which within itself will maintain distancing between unrelated campers to prevent exposure and simplify contact tracing. In fact, our Health & Education Director Kim Chisholm has already received her 6 hour Contact Tracing Certificate through Johns Hopkins University.

Pre-Program Screening & Virtual Day Camp Option

Families will need to complete our new Communicable Disease Screening form a day before attending camps this summer. Temperature checks and other steps will be required upon arrival every day. Staff will also follow strict screening protocol and will not work or be on site if they present transmission risk.

We are also offering Virtual Day Camps with Mon-Fri hours of 9-10 AM Online Camp Instruction; 10-12 On-Call Mentoring while participants are outdoors, 12:00-12:30 Lunch Check-In with Afternoon Prompts; 2:30-3:00 Online Review, Show & Tell, plus 3-5 PM Extended On-Call Mentoring with 5 PM Last Check-In for participants who want to continue what they started earlier in the day. The virtual camp options are designed for those who prefer distance learning, or who do not pass our screening requirements in advance of attendance.

Camps Held Outdoors with Autonomous 4-1 Student-Instructor Groups to Reduce Transmission Risk 

In the survival field, we have been preparing for, and working to prevent, situations like a pandemic throughout our careers. We run programs that focus on skills of emergency preparedness and survival, including how to avoid communicable diseases and what to do in case of pandemic. Although our programs take place in open-air spaces, we are not aware of any guidelines yet published regarding the rate of virus dispersal in the outdoors. So to be safe, we will follow indoor distancing protocols even while outdoors. History of Interest: Lessons from the 1918 Influenza Pandemic

When the appropriate phase of Washington State’s Phased Approach to re-open businesses occurs, we will offer summer camps as autonomous, independent groups of 4 campers with 1 lead instructor. Depending on the phase and accompanying restrictions, two groups may “bubble” near one another, allowing a lead instructor with 4 campers to supervise a near-by assistant instructor with 4 campers. 

Appropriate Distancing

We have always tried to strike a balance when determining professional distancing while teaching. Many of the skills we impart are naturally hands-on. But in the new reality, instructors will have to consider new distancing protocols when helping students. If we can run camps, we will likely replace games and activities that involve student-to-student contact with other methods of building skills and social interaction in the outdoors. The set-up of our programs will follow WHO protocols and other scientifically based guidance such as designing work stations which are separated by over 6 feet, having appropriate sanitizing and disinfecting supplies available at all times (along with a strict disinfection schedule) and use of P.P.E. including masks based on new guidelines as they develop over the coming weeks and months.


Along with historical requirements that Wolf Camp participants always wash hands before every meal and after using the bathroom, greatly enhanced protocols will be instituted for the continued safety of campers and staff this year. Once again, guidelines will be monitored, and our practices during a potential camp season will follow as changes occur. At a minimum, we will require hand washing and/or hand sanitizing at regular intervals in addition to before and after using the bathroom, before and after eating, before and after using tools, after accidentally touching faces or other high-risk surfaces, and after stepping away for a covered cough or sneeze. Staff will perform thorough cleaning and disinfecting of bathrooms and other structures such as tables and benches before and after programs, including all surfaces people may tend to touch (chairs, pens, credit card swipers, books, markers, etc.) also employing virus sanitizing sprays, etc. before/after/if different student groups utilize a same location. The number and quality of washing and sanitizing stations will increase, and we’ll specifically train staff in additional protocols such as ways to help students remember to avoid touching faces, shaking hands or touching people outside their family/personal circles. For our specific procedures, please see our upcoming blog post entitled Communicable Disease Prevention – Policies & Procedures at Wolf Camp.

Refund Policy

One of the policies we have always had in place is a refund policy that offers 100% credit toward future programs for any cancellation reason, something that has always helped prevent the spread of colds, flus, and other communicable diseases at Wolf Camp. The policy has helped people avoid feeling like they needed to attend for fear of losing money. To prevent disease transmission, it should always be fine to cancel at the last minute. This year, we will also give day-by-day credit to any participant who may be experiencing symptoms, who had any recent exposure to communicable diseases like the novel coronavirus, or who has planned contact with vulnerable populations.


Please email us or comment below with questions and suggestions knowing that we will continue to edit, update and expand via follow-up blog posts as time allows and recommendations occur. We thank you for your understanding and for joining us in replacing fear with knowledge,  building a new reality going forward that will help keep people safe, and  perhaps even inspiring a significant reduction in the seasonal flu and other communicable diseases as we fight the newest pandemic. We don’t know what the future holds, but we are trying to remain optimistic that we’ll be able to safely proceed with our programs this summer.  No matter what happens, we wish all of our past, present and future camp families the greatest health and happiness.  With gratitude, – Kim & Chris Chisholm

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