Last August Herzl Camp’s summer was cut a few days short due to a COVID-19 outbreak that affected nine cabins. However, the Jewish summer camp in Webster, Wisc., successfully held its Family Camp, a weekend for prospective families to experience camp, in the fall. With lessons from last summer and evolving public health guidelines, Herzl is carefully looking to summer 2022.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) approved the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine for emergency use for children ages five to 11; and Herzl’s medical committee recommends requiring all persons on camp grounds to be vaccinated. The Herzl Camp board of directors will meet Dec. 6 to vote on vaccination requirements.
Interim Executive Director Holly Guncheon said nearly all eligible 2021 campers and staff were vaccinated, and she has only heard support for a vaccine requirement.
“Everyone needs to make their own decision personally around their own family and their own health,” Guncheon said. “And in a communal living environment, public health needs to be our guide, and that points to having a vaccine policy.”
Herzl staff are also able to use what they learned in building a pandemic-era camp last summer. They used a mix of testing, masking and keeping cabin groups separate before expanding to age groups and then the full camp. Herzl added sinks and incorporated handwashing time into the daily schedule. The camp also took advantage of the outdoors.
“A big strategy last year was to move most of our activities outdoors,” said Guncheon. “We built a whole dining facility outside — an open-air facility with a roof — so that we could eat outside most of the time.”
She said it was an effective mitigation tool for COVID-19 but also a great camp experience, so Herzl will continue to make use of the outdoors and other strategies from last year.
Herzl typically integrates age groups with campwide activities, eating together and big-little buddies; but last summer the staff had to learn from other camps that already had pods by age.
In other Herzl news, Josh Levine will become executive director following the departure of Gary Kibort.
Levine was executive director at Camp Alonim in California, another independent, pluralistic Jewish camp. Herzl staff has gotten to know Levine over the years through Jewish camping learning cohorts, and Levine will start at Herzl in mid-January. Though he comes at an uncertain time, Levine has experience growing enrollment, funds and partnerships, and he has what Herzl learned last summer to jump off from.
A decision on a vaccine requirement is imminent; however, Holly Guncheon said summer 2022 decisions likely will be finalized around April. “Things like the Omicron variant make you realize that while we might want and plan to finalize in April, changes will be made as needed up until and through camp.”
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