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Banff's Summer Fun camps going ahead with reduced capacity

"We have to abide by these guidelines and we have to do everything we can to keep our community and our children safe."
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Banff Elementary School. EVAN BUHLER RMO PHOTO

BANFF – Banff’s Summer Fun day camps are going ahead this year, but with much lower capacity in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Upon review of provincial guidelines, Town of Banff officials say it was determined that operating a summer day camp program was feasible within the approved 2020 operating budget.

Alison Gerrits, the director of community services, said the program will run with approximately half the number of spaces than usually available because of limits on group sizes and restrictions around facility use.

“We do anticipate that Summer Fun will, in accordance with the public health measures, be able to operate at this point,” she said during a council meeting Monday (June 8).

“We believe there will five ongoing cohorts, and four one-week specialty camps, and of course, we’re not able to offer any of our overnight camps this year.”

Gerrits said that within five minutes of registration opening at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday (June 3), 40 requests had also been received.

“As of noon today, we have filled 57 per cent of all available spaces,” said Gerrits during Monday’s meeting.

“Some groups are more full than others.” 

Mayor Karen Sorensen thanked staff for all the hard work to have a Summer Fun program, noting that the municipality is doing everything it can to support residents during COVID-19.

“Clearly it is going to be a challenge for parents, and from the municipality’s perspective, we literally are doing all we can,” she said.

“But we have to abide by these guidelines and we have to do everything we can to keep our community and our children safe.”

Under provincial guidelines, day camp programs may operate in cohorts of 10 people, which includes both staff and children. A cohort is defined as a group of children and staff members assigned to stay together throughout the day.

Cohorts cannot mix with other groups or be within the same room or space at the same time, including at pick-ups and drop-offs, mealtimes, playtime, outdoor activities and staff rooms.

While more than one program can be offered per building, separation between programs must be maintained, such as separate entrances, washrooms, with health requirements followed. 

Lastly, if play structures are used by more than one group, the playground can only be used by one cohort at a time and must be cleared and disinfected before and after use by each cohort.

“There are a number of very strict guidelines to ensure the safe operation of programming and to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” said Gerrits.

“This gives you a sense of the challenge that is in place in terms of providing the kind of programming we’re used to providing.”

Gerrits said the greatest effect of the public health restrictions in running day camps are tied to the maximum group numbers, or the cohort.

She said usual ratios would allow for one counsellor per eight children for those in kindergarten and Grade 1, one to 10 ratio for grades 2 and 3, and one to 12 ratio for grades 4 and up – but the new restrictions allow for one councillor to four children.

“We tend to speak about days of care in terms of our camp because in Banff not many of our families use full-time spaces,” said Gerrits, noting the municipality can offer 40 spaces per day compared to 80 last year.

“We’re able to offer half the number of spaces.”

In addition to group size restrictions, the provincial regulations also mean the Town of Banff has to identify additional locations on top of Banff Elementary School where Summer Fun typically runs.

Other locations under consideration include Fenlands, Banff Scout Hall, Middle Springs Cabin and the Protection-Little Bow Shelter.

“The program runs out of Banff Elementary School solely, but with the school closures and limits on all the entry points, washroom access and cohort separation and the like, we’ve had to identify individual additional facilities,” said Gerrits.

“We are working collaboratively with public health to ascertain which of these sites will be best suited.”

If demand for summer day camps ultimately exceeds available Summer Fun spaces, Gerrits said more cohorts could be potentially added.

“This, of course, would be subject to pending staff availability and facility access, which would be our biggest challenges,” she said.

“Admin could return with a net operating cost per additional group; however, at this point we have been able to meet the demand.”

Meanwhile, the Day Care Society of Banff, which operates the Banff Child Care Centre and Puzzles, has informed families of plans to reopen July 2.

“The Banff Child Care Centre is going to be opening with four cohorts of 32 children and Puzzles will have one one cohort of eight children, representing approximately one third of its regular operating capacity,” said Gerrits.

“It is likely that childcare is going to be a real challenge for families this summer.”

In addition to reduced spaces community-wide, there are also strict guidelines in place around children’s attendance at day camps when sick.

“If participants show any signs of illness whatsoever, those individuals would not then be able to participate for a period of 10 days or until symptoms disappear – or whichever is longer,” said Gerrits.

“If a case of COVID-19 emerges within any of the groups this summer, all children and staff tied to that particular cohort, as well as any other additional close contacts, would be required to self-isolate for a 14-day period.”