- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Health care specialists are alerting parents of the risks of exposing their children to measles at summer camps, as the largest U.S. outbreak in 27 years continues to spread and youth programs open for the season.

“Those are environments where a virus that is so contagious such as measles could continue to spread during the summer months, which back in the old days were a very low time for measles transmission,” said William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist and medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.

“During the summer, children are together very closely for prolonged periods of time in summer camps just as they are in school, even though they may be outdoors much more,” Dr. Schaffner said. “But they are frequently together in face-to-face contact, and that’s an ideal environment for infectious diseases such as measles to spread.”

His warning comes as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports 1,044 measles infections in 28 states as of last week, the most since 1992 when more than 2,000 cases were reported for the entire year.

The American Academy of Pediatrics released a policy statement Monday urging all summer camps to ban attendees with nonmedical exemptions for vaccines.

“Nonmedical exemptions to required immunizations are inappropriate, and these exemptions should be eliminated by camps,” the policy statement by Michael Ambrose and Edward Walton reads. “Participation by campers and staff who are incompletely immunized or unimmunized because of nonmedical exemptions is inappropriate for individual, public health and ethical reasons.”

Last week, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation to end religious exemptions for vaccines. Several counties in New York, including Rockland and Ulster, have issued public orders requiring all summer camps to admit only campers and staff who have proof of immunity or a medical exemption, or are in the process of receiving the MMR vaccine.

The public order doesn’t give camps a lot of preparation time, said Janet Packard, executive administrative director of The Wayfinder Experience, which has camps in Ulster and Putnam counties.

She said her camp staff is working hard to meet the public order’s demands for its Ulster County locations. Ms. Packard added The Wayfinder Experience also is considering implementing the same health restrictions for campers in Putnam County next camp season.

The 71 camps in Rockland County received notice of the vaccination demands in mid-May, receiving an official order early June, according to John Lyons, spokesman for Rockland County.

He agreed that all camps in the U.S. should eliminate nonmedical exemptions, noting there have been 272 measles cases in Rockland County alone since October.

Deerkill Day Camp is one of the Rockland County camps required to meet the public order before its season starts at the end of June. Todd Rothman, the camp’s owner and director, said he made the decision before the order’s issuance to no longer accept religious exemptions.

Every year up until this year, the camp had accepted religious exemptions.

“For us, where there are known measles cases — while not immediately next to us, but in our vicinity and general area — it makes sense to err on the side of caution,” Mr. Rothman said. “From our perspective, we have to make sure the safety of our campers is paramount.”

But Hope Steele, health services director for River Valley Ranch, a camp in Maryland, expressed reservations about eliminating nonmedical exemptions.

“I agree that all campers should be immunized. We do live in a community where the campers are with each other, sharing dorms and sleeping arrangements for the week. But I would not want to discriminate against those who may have a religious belief,” Ms. Steele said.

She added that River Valley Ranch follows state and local laws and has a health monitoring process for campers and protocols for isolation if concerns of an infectious disease arise.

The AAP policy statement also says all camps should have pre-camp medical evaluations, health policies approved by a pediatrician or family physician, electronic health records, on-site first aid personnel and relationships with local emergency medical services.

Tom Rosenberg, president and CEO of the American Camp Association (ACA), said he recommends camps follow immunization guidelines of local and federal health agencies and identify campers at higher risk of contracting illnesses.

“Just like a school needs to ensure that students are well and able to participate in programs in a community setting, we also believe that camps need to have an established procedure in place to carefully screen for illnesses and injuries and all communicable diseases,” Mr. Rosenberg said.

He added that parents can check online if a camp is ACA accredited and meets the foundational standards for camp safety, commenting on how accredited camps have been managing health safety for a long time.

But only a small portion of camps are ACA accredited — about 2,400 of 14,000 day and resident camps.

More than 14 million children and adults attend camp across the U.S. each year, and camps employ more than 1.5 million staff, according to the ACA.

The CDC says summer camps bring children from different communities together, therefore increasing the chances of infectious diseases such as measles to spread.

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