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Summer camp registration delayed in Sarasota and Manatee amid coronavirus

To summer camp or not to summer camp? The fate of camps in Manatee and Sarasota counties is dependent on the coronavirus pandemic.

Several families are trying to find a sense of normal again as businesses start to reopen. A big question: whether summer camps are going to happen this year.

With schools shutting down, forcing kids to stay home and work virtually, parents are ready for a break and kids are ready to get out of the house and actually have some fun.

But camp planners in Manatee and Sarasota counties are considering whether it's safe enough to hold those camps.

“That’s the million-dollar question,” Nicole Rissler said. “From a Sarasota County standpoint, we haven’t made that decision yet.”

Nicole Rissler is the recreation and natural resource director for Sarasota County. She says she and her team continue to monitor this pandemic to help in their decision making.

“We’re doing a lot of planning and analysis,” Rissler said. “What modifications can we do?”

Credit: Sarasota County

“We want our community to be able to get back to whatever normal that’s going to be,” Rissler said. “We know summer camp is a big portion of that, but we’re still working on how can we do that in a safe manner.”

It’s evident that summer camps are not going to look the same this year if they do happen. Some camps are considering virtual alternatives, while others are thinking of other modified methods, or just canceling altogether. 

Rissler said Sarasota county is trying to adapt to different activities.

“Like regular tag can be played with pool noodles so you don’t have to touch people,” Rissler said. “I mean there’s a lot of super creative people out there doing a lot of these things so certainly nothing is out for us in terms of what that looks like.”

The good news is some initial decisions for camps in Sarasota County have been made.

Right now, they are waiting for Florida to move into phase two of the state’s reopening before announcing registration for camps. The camp registration will be on a weekly schedule to offer more flexibility, and the number of spots available at each site will be reduced to help maintain social distancing.

“We’re really trying here in Sarasota County to partner with all the other community partners that have summer camps and trying to come up with the best solutions and best practices as we all navigate something we’ve never done before,” Rissler said.

Rissler says Day Camp will be offered for children between the ages of 6-11, but there won’t be Adventure Camp this year.

They also continue to provide financial assistance, as a small portion of spots will be reserved for families in need.

Registration has been delayed, but once it becomes available, you can register your kids for camps in the county here.

In Manatee County, the Parks and Natural Resources Director Charlie Hunsicker says their current plan is to start some camps but cannot give a date on when that might occur. He says the health and safety of county staff and residents are the top priorities for their reopening plans.

“Summer camps are very high on our list to evaluate for opening this summer to help parents get back to work,” Hunsicker said.

Once he and his team draft up a plan to safely open summer camps, the county administrator's reopening evaluation team will review and offer suggestions before it's approved and finalized.

"As things are going now, it’s looking good for opening camps, but I think I’d be called out without also qualifying that there could be a chance that we may not open this summer," Hunsicker said.

He says there will not be field trips associated with camps if they are started, but they are coming up with a plan to cut down on exposure.

“Usually we have a 15 to 18 student per counselor ratio, but in order to meet the guidelines now we’ll probably hold that to nine students to one counselor,” Hunsicker said.

“And hopefully trying to have that camp counselor group interact like a family,” Hunsicker said. “When the eighth child leaves, it will be seven people and the counselor, not bringing in another child to fill in the space so that we know throughout the day we’re having a group stay together and play together.”

To keep updated with the status of summer camps in Manatee County, click or tap here.

When it comes to camps involved with the school districts, Manatee County is working on a plan.

A spokesperson for the Sarasota School district says they only have academic programs for traditional public school students who qualify during the summer. For example, Summer Learning Academy and Summer Learning Camp.

“At this time, we are still awaiting more guidance from the state about summer academic programs,” a spokesperson with the school district said. “We are looking at a number of modified ways to deliver academic instruction for students who would qualify academically.”

RELATED: Some Tampa Bay counties postponing, canceling summer camps

RELATED: Parents, summer camps weigh options during pandemic

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