Oh, Missouri: Summer camp virus outbreak raises safety questions

Looks like I picked the wrong week to send my 5 daughters to summer camp.

They’re over that now but Missouri leaders knew the risk of convening thousands of kids at summer camps across the state during a pandemic, the state’s top health official said, and insisted that camp organizers have plans in place to keep an outbreak from happening.

The outbreak happened anyway.

An overnight summer camp in rural southwestern Missouri has seen scores of campers, counselors and staff infected with the coronavirus, the local health department revealed this week, raising questions about the ability to keep kids safe at what is a rite of childhood for many.

Missouri is one of several states to report outbreaks at summer camps. The Kanakuk camp near Branson ended up sending its teenage campers home. On Friday, the local health department announced 49 positive cases of the COVID-19 virus at the camp. By Monday, the number had jumped to 82.

Some states, like Oregon, New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, closed summer camps this year, and many camps elsewhere have voluntarily canceled programs. But other camps are plowing ahead, hoping that precautions like social distancing, masks and requiring children to quarantine before coming to camp will quell the risk. Other states where outbreaks have been reported have included Texas, Georgia, North Carolina and Tennessee.

Memories of summer camp: ‘we were all just kind of throwing up everywhere;’ 100 Notre Dame sport camp participants treated for illness

Daughter Courtlynn left for summer camp yesterday where she will finally get to be a councilor in the Muskokas of Ontario (that’s in Canada).

But every time she goes to camp, there’s an outbreak of something that makes me question what these guardians of our children know about food safety (no more or less than anyone else, I guess).

Indiana’s news leader, WSBT, reports that more than 100 middle and high school students participating in summer sports camps at the University of Notre Dame became suddenly ill early Wednesday morning. Some were so sick they had to be hospitalized.

The big question neither the St. Joseph County health officer nor the university could answer Wednesday was exactly what caused more than 100 teenagers to become ill with stomach flu-like symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and body aches?

Indiana’s Department of Health and the St. Joseph County Health Department are testing stool samples and food the campers ate to see whether the illnesses were caused by a nasty stomach bug or food poisoning.

It’s a summer camp 13-year-old Chicago friends Elaine Johnson and Maeve Sheehan will always remember.

“I just kind of woke up [in the middle of the night] and started to have a sick feeling,” Johnson said. “The coaches brought us out into the hallway and every single girl had a small trash can. And everybody had a little pillow and blanket there and we were all just kind of throwing up everywhere.”

Suddenly, several of their lacrosse camp friends were also getting sick.

“I don’t know, I was kind of scared a little. It was weird,” Sheehan recalled.
She began vomiting hours later.

“Everybody was puking last night,” added football camper Alex Bradt, from Chaffield, MN. Bradt did not become ill, but he noted his camp did not have enough players to create teams for a scheduled scrimmage Wednesday because so many of the teens were sick.

Here’s the video from Indiana’s other news leader, ABC57.

Searching for a summer camp, add food safety questions to parental checklist

The 16-year-old daughter has been going to a summer camp in Muskoka (that’s in Ontario, Canada) for years and loves it.

This year she gets to be a councilor for the summer so I’ve been reviewing crucial scenes from Bill Murray’s 1979 cinematic debut, Meatballs.

Yesterday’s USA Today noted that camp fair season (January-March) is in full swing: information and marketing fests are setting up shop in schools, malls and libraries across the country.

Peg Smith, CEO of the American Camp Association, which represents 2,400 accredited camps, said about 10 million kids attend camp each year, the camp association says. Of 12,000 day and resident camps nationwide, 4,000 are privately owned for-profits and 8,000 are non-profit.

Among specialty camps and themed sessions, cooking instruction — inspired by such TV shows as Top Chef— is "hot, hot, hot," says Jill Tipograph, founder of EverythingSummer.org, an independent camp consulting firm and author of Your Everything Summer Guide & Planner.

Wonder if they’ll learn any food safety.

To help families search, the camp association offers a database at acacamps.org, and there are a bunch of questions parents should ask. But few seem to ask about or promote microbiologically safe food. There are outbreaks of foodborne illness every year at camps across North America, including one at a hockey camp a couple of my daughters went to years ago; fortunately my kids weren’t there during the outbreak.

But parents shouldn’t have to rely on fortune or faith. Ask questions about a camp’s commitment to food that doesn’t make kids barf. For some areas, food service inspection results may be available on-line. Those responsible for our
 children for a week or month of parental relief should be promoting safe food along with camp virtues.