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Camp owners scope out the summer as state hands down 'complex' guidelines

Kids will be able to play and learn, but there will be many of the same social distancing guidelines adults are coping with.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark — The Arkansas Department of Health has laid out guidelines for three major summer activities involving kids. Now camp directors are sizing up how well they can adjust to the new rules in time to bring in campers and counselors starting in June.

Summer day camps have three pages of rules to institute while overnight camps have four pages of guidelines. They deal with screening, mask requirements, and who should and shouldn't come on camp property.

RELATED: 'We all have to be innovative': Summer camps adjust amid COVID-19 pandemic

Gov. Asa Hutchinson announced the directives on Thursday in the same daily briefing where he announced a record number of new coronavirus cases in the state.

In that environment, parents will have to make tough, thoughtful decisions before packing their kids off to camp.

"We're giving a big freedom of choice here," the governor said. "There's going to be some parents who say, 'I don't think the time is right,' or they might be vulnerable health-wise themselves. I know that's difficult because there's a lot of peer pressure. But those are individual decisions that people need to make."

With 36 years of running Family Farm Christian Camp in Malvern, Stan and Donna May are ready to face this very different summer.

"We are super excited," said Donna May. "We cannot wait to get children back on this farm again and let them fish and pet animals and ride horses."

Over at Camp Mulberry in Hot Springs, the property is locked and directors Dee and Kim Stone say they are looking over the guidelines to determine what to do.

State Secretary of Health, Dr. Nate Smith, said the camp and youth sports guidelines are some of the most complicated directives he's had to write so far.

"They're complex because we know that COVID-19 is being spread in many of our communities," he said. "We want to make these activities as safe for children as possible."

The day camp guidelines could offer a preview of what school could look like this fall. They call for pick-up and drop-off outside the property if possible. Classes or camp groups should have 10 or fewer. Fever and symptom screenings are recommended for everybody. 

"We had groups of about 12 and there will probably be 10 or less to a group now," said Donna May. "We're normally small and the same children are together all week."

Stan May said their meals already fit the rules with kids spaced on more newly-built picnic tables eating from their own lunch bags brought from home.

Overnight camps add criteria dealing with handling hygiene on playgrounds and sleeping quarters. There needs to be a medical team in place and dining halls need to follow the same rules as recently reopened restaurants.

That's a sign that many of the social distancing rules adults are figuring out in public, will somehow be applied to kids. Camps and sports will test how well children 10 and up will handle wearing a mask for an extended period. Open air and wide open spaces help, but the governor advises parents to go over all the rules to decide how their kids will spend the summer months.

RELATED: Gov. Hutchinson announces limited-contact sports can resume June 1

"I trust Arkansans with information and that they are going to make good decisions. Some won't," the governor said. "But let's encourage them all and let's try to make individual good decisions."