Gov. Andrew Cuomo and New York Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker on Saturday said sleepaway camps will not be permitted to operate this summer, because of the possibility the coronavirus could spread among children.
Day camps were recently allowed to open.
“Sleepaway camps – look, all of this is a balance, right. Everybody wants to do everything. I want to do everything. So, it's a balance of the health risk versus the activity,” Cuomo said. “How many people are in a gathering? What do we do in a restaurant? What do we do in a pool? What do we do at a beach? It's always a balance.
“Summer camps, we have studied with a great deal of diligence, because it involves children. And there are certain new developments with children. We open day camps – that's one level of risk. Sleepaway camps are a much higher level of risk. And, after much study and debate and research, our advice in New York state – by our health commissioner – is the risk is too great to open the summer camps.”
Zucker explained, “I know there's been an incredible amount of emotions about this and, as the governor said, we've had to make a lot of tough decisions with this pandemic. And I have to tell you this has been one of the tougher decisions I've had to make, or pass the message on – pass the advice on. But we've always made decisions based on facts and science on these issues.
“I've looked at this from the role as the commissioner; I've looked at this as a role as a pediatrician; I looked at this is from my role as being father – and also actually as being someone who has very fond memories of sleepaway camp in the Catskills. I understand where people are coming from.
“But we have to go back and look at this from the facts; and the facts are that this is a congregate setting. There are many children who are together in a bunk. They're sleeping in the same area – close by; they are eating in the same common area; they are using a shared bathroom. So, social distancing in these situations is just not possible. So, what will happen is that the virus will get into one of these camps, and it will spread.
“And someone will say to you, ‘Well, how do you know?’ So, it goes back to history; it goes back to facts. What we have seen over the course of time, is that we've had H1N1 – which was a virus back years ago – and it got into a camp; many camps, there were 50 outbreaks of that. That resulted in 1,600 cases of H1N1. We had a mumps outbreak once. One person, 120 cases. And from those 120 cases, we could track 3,500 people who got mumps in multiple states in the area – because people from sleepaway camps often come from different areas.
“So, we look at this from the basis of facts. We look at this from the basis of science, and that was why you know this has become a tough decision to grapple with, but that's what it is.
“And day camps are different, because you have a confined number of individuals in one area.
“And one other thing about that is also that the health professionals within the sleepaway camp will be easily overburdened if you end up having to quarantine all of those children in a camp.
“So, it was a tough decision, but this is the best public health practice that I can think of.”