At least three sleepaway camps in Quebec have decided to temporarily shut down due to COVID-19 outbreaks, Radio-Canada has learned, sending hundreds of campers home just one week into the season.
The count stood at two last night, but a third camp closure was confirmed this morning.
In a letter to parents Monday, the director of Camp Ouareau in the Lanaudière region said all 150 campers must be sent home Tuesday after seven cases of the virus were recorded at the camp.
“We are extremely sad that it has come to this,” wrote Jacqui Raill. “This decision was not taken lightly.”
Raill said the she anticipates that additional cases may be detected in the coming days. The camp will reopen on July 13.
It was supposed to be a return to normal for summer camps this year, as all were closed in the summer of 2020 and some didn’t open in 2021.
The Association des camps du Québec (ACQ) has identified at least two other camp closures in the province and says there might be others. The association is not naming the camps.
Decision is ‘unreasonable,’ says parent
The closures come as a headache and disappointment for some parents, many of whom plan their summers around their child’s stay at camp.
“Seven cases doesn’t seem like much to close a camp,” said Emmanuelle Lamarre-Cliche, who reorganized her day to pick up her daughters from Camp Ouareau today.
She called the situation “completely ridiculous” and the decision “unreasonable” when almost all health measures in Quebec have been lifted, and when “there are people who crowd into restaurants and theaters.”
She said it’s also a shame for her kids, who have been dealing with COVID-19 restrictions for the past two years.
“They wore masks in class, did school from home, put aside their social life and extracurricular activities. They finally had the opportunity to get some fresh air and have fun with friends,” she said.
Camp association calls for clarity
In her letter to parents, Raill said the decision to close the camp was made following advice from the region’s local health board. However, public health authorities say they did not make this recommendation.
“We have been informed of the camp’s closure,” said CISSS Lanaudière spokesperson Pascale Lamy. “The complete closure of Camp Ouareau remains a decision for the camp administration.”
According to the province’s camp association, there are no clear guidelines for deciding to close a camp because of an outbreak.
On Monday, ACQ executive director Eric Beauchemin requested a meeting with Quebec’s Health Ministry to clarify the rules.
“We have already experienced outbreaks of gastroenteritis, before COVID existed. It is possible to maintain operations in a context like this. We have to see with public health how far we can go and how much leeway we have,” he said.
Beauchemin said camps follow COVID-19 guidelines, such as distancing, limiting the number of people per accommodation unit to 10, as well as favouring outdoor activities.
Cases among counsellors
According to the ACQ, the cases of COVID-19 were found among counsellors. But an absent counsellor can deprive a dozen youth of supervision, says Beauchemin.
“It’s a headache for organizations. If we are not able to maintain the prescribed [counsellor to child] ratios, we are in a situation where we have to stop the camp operations.”
The labour shortage affecting camps makes the situation even more complex, as replacements are becoming scarce.
As far as Quebec day camps are concerned, there are no closures at the moment.