Fresh concerns about sending children back to school have been raised after COVID-19 tore through a Georgia camp, infecting scores of children.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report on Friday about the outbreak, although the exact name of the camp was not revealed. The CDC said that the camp had been practicing many safety precautions, but it did not mandate wearing masks.
The first sign of the outbreak came in late June — five days after orientation when a counselor began to feel ill and was sent home. After a positive coronavirus test, campers were sent home over the following days, and the camp itself was shut down three days later. The camp had about 600 children and counselors, although the test results of just 344 of those were available to researchers.
Of those 344, 76% of them tested positive for COVID-19. There were higher rates of infection among the younger campers in the sample than the older children. More than half of children aged 6 to 10 were infected, 44% aged 11 to 17, and 33% aged 18 to 21. Among the seven staff members over the age of 22, two tested positive, according to CDC data.
The authors of the CDC report wrote that staffers were required to wear masks, but the children at the camp were not required to do so. It also noted that the camp did not abide by the recommendation of opening windows and doors to increase ventilation in camp buildings. The report also said some camp activities could have aided the spread of the virus.
“The multiple measures adopted by the camp were not sufficient to prevent an outbreak in the context of substantial community transmission. Relatively large cohorts sleeping in the same cabin and engaging in regular singing and cheering likely contributed to transmission,” the authors of the report concluded.
Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told the New York Times that the study is important as the start of the school year approaches and the debate over whether to have in-person learning heats up. She also highlighted the importance of social distancing and the use of face masks.
“The study affirms that group settings can lead to large outbreaks, even when they are primarily attended by children,” Rivers said. “The fact that so many children at this camp were infected after just a few days together underscores the importance of mitigation measures in schools that do reopen for in-person learning.”
The camp study comes as battles are being waged over the upcoming school year at the local, state, and national level. President Trump has made a return to in-person learning for children one of his major talking points when it comes to the U.S. effort to reopen during the pandemic. During a recent news conference, Trump said that he would be comfortable sending his own son, Barron, and his grandchildren back to school.
“I am comfortable with that, and we do have a national strategy. As you know, ultimately, it’s up to the governors of the states,” he said, responding to a question on the matter. Trump also said he hoped that 100% of schools would reopen.
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