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Parents, summer camps weigh options during pandemic

There is growing anxiety about what to do with children this summer.

As more people start heading back to work, and school starts winding down, childcare - especially over the summer months - is becoming a big concern for parents.

How many spots are available? Will some traditional options even open at all?

There is growing anxiety about what to do with children this summer as the coronavirus pandemic continues.

Fewer daycare centers are open. At those that are, fewer spaces are available due to CDC guidelines for social distancing.

“They take a very large number of school-age children in the summer. We’re not sure if that’s going to be out there, as well as other summer camps, so communitywide, we are wondering where those children are going to go,” said Angela Chowning, manager at Hillsborough County Child Care Licensing.

One option might be summer camp programs like at the Museum of Science and Industry in Tampa.

MOSI says it’s planning to take its normal allotment of summer camp applications, but with some big adjustments: No kids with fever, discouraging children from sharing objects, social distancing and hand sanitizer everywhere.

The question is, will the kids even listen?

“It is a challenge,” MOSI COO Rob Lamke said. “There’s no way around that. And, it’s going to be an ongoing process. We have got a lot of education and training for our staff that we’re doing right now.”

Parents may need to act quickly.

At some camp locations like ZooTampa, they’ve already hit capacity for applications. And, even that number could change.

“We won’t be canceling any of our campers at this point if things change,” ZooTampa’s Cara Treadway said. “Of course, it is a very fluid situation as everybody knows, so we will be assessing and reassessing the situation as we move up to camp and then throughout camp.”

One of the biggest issues making it tough for parents to plan is that many traditional city and county summer programs, which would normally accept thousands of kids around the Tampa Bay area, still haven’t said what they plan to do.

It’s the same for after-school programs that transition to summer programs. Several websites we checked say look for a decision by the end of this week.

“With the closure of public schools, we're not sure which of those programs... which of the districts’ back to school programs are going to be reopening,” Chowning said.

The concern with any program, local leaders say, is that despite best intentions, putting the children together could increase the risk of spreading COVID-19 to older, more vulnerable relatives.

“And with multi-generational families in our community,” Hillsborough Commissioner Kimberly Overman said. “How we address the need for childcare is so critically important.”

Parents who do sign their kids up for daycare or summer camp programs should also ask about refund policies. MOSI says any parent who decides the summer camp isn't a good idea can get a full refund.

Daycare centers say they face several challenges – from not enough milk and snacks to low supplies of the basics. There's also a staffing issue as many are parents themselves and have been staying home with their own children.

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