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How are Tampa Bay's summer camp programs handling COVID-19 safety guidelines?

Bay-area camps are largely leaving their protocols untouched from last summer despite changing CDC guidance.

TAMPA, Fla. — School is almost out for the summer -- to the joy of many students, but it's causing a little bit of panic for some parents as they scramble to pull together plans for the summer.

With COVID-19 vaccines widely available across the state, and now for children as young as 12 years old, many parents are considering putting their students back into in-person learning experiences at summer camps across the Tampa Bay area. This comes after more than a year of virtual learning for thousands of kids, so you may be wondering: What kind of safety measures are in place this summer at camps?

There's been conflicting guidance released by the Centers for Disease Control and by the state of Florida. Governor Ron DeSantis recently signed an order suspending local emergency orders, undermining local governments from imposing COVID-19 safety mandates.

RELATED: These stores plan to keep requiring masks for now

The CDC updated its guidelines for summer camp programs, decreasing the social distancing requirement of 6 feet to 3 feet, but keeping in place suggestions for masks, disinfection and groupings.

With conflicting guidelines from the state and the federal level, many summer camp programs in the Tampa Bay area have just decided to keep their guidelines from last summer in place this year. Some of the most popular camp programs, like at ZooTampa and the Museum of Science and Industry, are keeping mask mandates, distancing and capacity limits. 

Laura Byrne, the editorial manager and creative director of Tampa Bay Parenting magazine, puts together a list of Tampa Bay area summer camps. She says most camps are keeping their previous guidelines in place in an abundance of caution. 

When it comes to choosing a camp, she suggests identifying your family's comfort level first, "If you have concerns, reach out to camps before you sign up and register. Find out what their protocols are and see if that aligns with your family's values and then book the camps from there. There are so many wonderful options here in the Tampa Bay area."

When it comes to actually booking your camps, Byrne recommends doing it sooner rather than later. Many camps are already fully booked. Since many programs are still operating with smaller class sizes to ensure enough space for social distancing, classes will often fill up more quickly.

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