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'It Can Work,' Summer Camps Will Be Open, But They'll Look A Lot Different

FREEDOM, N.H. (CBS) - Every winter Brook and Drew Cippoletti count the days until they can return to Camp Nellie Huckins in Freedom, New Hampshire, but last year that day ever came.

"When they made the announcements, there were a lot of tears in my house," recalled Jennifer Cippoletti.

But this year the YMCA girls overnight camp will be back in business.

"There's a lot of enthusiasm," explained camp director Heather Kiley. "Understandably there are questions about what camp is going to look like and how we are going to keep people safe."

Like many camps, Nellie Huckins is taking a lot of safety precautions. Families are being asked to avoid large crowds for two weeks before they come to camp.

"Limiting risky behaviors like going to weddings or big, huge events that tend to be COVID spreaders," Kiley told WBZ-TV.

Testing will also be a big part of keeping campers and staff safe. All kids need to arrive with a negative test within the last few days, they'll be tested again on check-in day, and again on day five.

Masks will be required for most activities and some big changes are being made to allow for social distancing.

"We have rented a large tent that will be in the front space of the dining hall and we'll have half of the camp eating in the tent," Kiley said.

Singing is a big part of mealtime, but that won't be allowed this year.

According to Kiley, cohorts will be the key. The cabin groups of about ten campers will be like family and they'll do a lot together. There will be fewer large group activities that mix different age groups. This, according to Kiley, will keep the spread down if they do end up having a positive case.

Because you can't wear a mask while swimming, Kiley says they are still working out the details on that. It's possible that swimming may have to stay within that cabin cohort.

"Maine camps have been used as an example throughout the country," Ron Hall, the executive director of Maine Summer Camps, a non-profit camp association, told WBZ.

He says that cohort model was key to the success of several overnight camps that did open in Maine last year. He said they did have swimming and ate most of their meals outside.

"It can work," he said.

According to Hall, registrations are up this summer, with many parents eager to get their kids away from a screen and connecting with their peers again. He also said that most camps are prepared to be flexible and do what they can to give refunds if cases spike again.

In spite of all the unknowns, Jennifer Cippoletti feels confident that camp will be safe for her girls. She's not only a mom, but works for tipsontripsandcamps, a website that matches kids to summer programs.

"(Camp) is going to be exactly what these kids need after the craziest year of their lives," she said.

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