Summer camp season is nearly upon us, and with it come questions from parents regarding their child’s health. How should you prepare your child for camp? What does the camp require? And what safety measures are day camps and sleepaway camps legally obligated to follow?
Dr. Rachel Geronemus, a pediatrician at Scarsdale Medical Group, notes that most – though not all – camps ask for proof that a child has had a full physical examination before attending. This is usually a mere matter of paperwork for the physician’s office, as New York state law mandates that any student new to a school have a current physical examination. Those already enrolled are required to get a current physical every two years through grade 10.
A “current” physical exam is defined by the New York State Department of Health as “an exam that has been dated and signed by your child’s Health Care Provider and completed no earlier than within one year prior to the beginning of the current school year’s starting date. Exams completed prior to that date will not fulfill the requirements.”
As for the health screening, those can be performed by either the pediatrician or a school nurse; it includes a vision check, height, weight, blood pressure and scoliosis screening.
Most camps will accept a form submitted by the healthcare provider that the camper in question has fulfilled their physical exam requirements. “Nevertheless,” Dr. Geronemus says, “for ages 2 and up, I recommend an annual physical in order to maintain good health, prescribe preventive medicine if necessary, and as a way of picking up subtle signs that could indicate an existing or developing condition that may be cause for concern.”
Allergies are of course an issue for many children, with asthma – according to the CDC, about 6 million children in the U.S. aged 0-17 have asthma – while about 5.2 million suffer from hay fever. In such cases, you may want your child to carry an inhaler. If the child takes medication for such conditions, they must be dispensed by a camp official, usually its onsite health director. (New York state requires at least one such person, depending on the number of enrolled children.)
If your child is taking medication of any kind, be sure that they have a sufficient supply to get them through the day (or, if they’re going to a sleepaway camp, for their entire stay). Prescriptions should be filled well before camp begins.
Insects will also be in attendance. If your child has been diagnosed with anaphylaxis – a severe allergic reaction to bug bites/stings (typically from bees) that could be life-threatening – they likely already carry an epinephrine auto-injector, such as an EpiPen that should be used immediately. Such tools can also be used in cases of acute allergic reactions to foods and other substances. Camps are required to file full reports with the state whenever epinephrine is administered.
As for the ever-present worry about Lyme disease from a tick bite, or the latest disease carried by mosquitos, Dr. Geronemus says the Hospital has seen few serious cases over the past several years. Lyme can take at least 36 hours to manifest itself, so careful body checks for ticks and bites are a good idea. Likewise, if a tick is attached for greater than 36 hours or for an unknown length of time, the Hospital considers treating a child with prophylactic antibiotics.
Don’t Forget the Sunscreen!
Camps are generally good to remind parents about the need for sunscreen during those hot summer days, but you should check with your pediatrician or a dermatologist as to what kind is best for your child, how often they should reapply, etc. Camp can be even more physically taxing than school, so if your child is likely to be going on long hikes or otherwise will be in the sun for extended periods, be sure they have the appropriate sunscreen with them.
The COVID-19 Question
If your child has been diagnosed with COVID, observe the standard protocols before sending them off to camp. The latest New York state guidelines for isolation, quarantine and so on can be found here.
If your child has had a moderate to severe case of COVID in the past, consult with their physician as to whether there are extra precautions you should take. Very few kids will require another screening, but it is always a good idea to be sure.
Lastly, when it comes to injuries sustained at camp, studies have shown only two reported major illnesses or injuries for every 1,000 kids. The most common mishap is a stomachache or bug that a child could just as easily have acquired at home.
None of this information is meant to scare you away from sending your child to camp. Instead, by taking these steps, you can ensure that your child, as well as those they will be interacting with, will indeed be happy campers.
Dr. Rachel Geronemus is a pediatrician at Scarsdale Medical Group, seeing patients at 600 Mamaroneck Avenue, Suite 300, Harrison, N.Y. To schedule an appointment, call 914-989-1111.