While they may provide much-needed diversion for kids who have had to shelter at home for months, they are also a trial run of what schools may look like next year.
"It is the beginning of our being able to understand what it might be like to go back to school in the fall," said Dr. Naomi Bardach, Associate Professor of Pediatrics at UCSF.
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Dr. Bardach is working closely with Celsius and Beyond, a science enrichment program that is offering an indoor camp this summer.
She will be overseeing a new program that teaches campers to self-administer a COVID-19 test by rubbing a swab on the front of their nose, instead of using the much more invasive PCR test that puts a swab deep into the nasal passage.
"It is much more comfortable that even a kid can be able to self-collect," said Dr. Bardach. The idea is to teach camp staffers to handle the collected samples.
If it proves successful, a similar system may be used in schools with students administering their own tests and handing them over to school staff, without the need of health professionals at each school location.
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Frequent testing may be one of the requirements for schools to move beyond a virtual classroom this fall.
"It is not reasonable to expect kids to sit 6 feet away from other kids and not move the entire day," said Auritte Cohen-Ross, director of Celsius and Beyond, who implemented a slew of safety measures to diminish the spread of COVID-19.
Campers have their temperature taken when they first arrive at camp. They must keep their masks on if they will be sitting closer than 6 feet from another student and they have to wash their hands seven times a day.
"Part of the learning process is to touch things. It will be a compromise of the experience," said Cohen-Ross, whose science camp has classes on chemistry, anatomy and forensics.
San Francisco limited camp sessions to 12 kids per class, but Celsius and Beyond is capping enrollment at 10 kids per class as an additional safety measure.
"Is there a risk? Of course," said Natalie Julin, a parent who dropped off her daughter Jasmine for a math and art class. "Outside the house there is going to be a risk, but I think it is worth it."
"I woke up and I was like, is it school time?" said Jasmine, who was more than thrilled to get out of the house.
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Children are taught to look for symptoms that could indicate they are infected with the novel coronavirus, such as a fever, cough or problems breathing.
To minimize the potential for spread, campers cannot share food and can only socialize with kids in their class.
Cohen-Ross said she considered cancelling summer camp this year after having trouble finding a location to hold classes.
She said San Francisco did not allow access to schools like previous years.
Fortunately she was able to reach an agreement to hold camp at Congregation Sherith Israel, a synagogue near Pacific Heights.
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