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COVID-19 Outbreak at Popular Christian Youth Camp

Kanakuk Hosted Thousands This Summer

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A COVID-19 outbreak at a popular Christian youth camp raises questions about its choice to open for the summer.

At least 82 positive COVID-19 cases link back to Kamp Kanakuk’s K-2 site in Lampe, Mo., according to area health officials. The camp has now been shut down for the term, although they are making plans for an “abbreviated session” once staffers are isolated and have been tested.

At least 5,000 students have gone through the camp so far this summer, many of whom come from out of state. K-2 is one of six camps operated by Kamp Kanakuk.

Randall Williams of the Missouri’s Department of Health and Senior Services said the camp was aware of the risks, and had provided an extensive plan to both prevent and respond to an outbreak. As part of Kamp Kanakuk’s opening plan, staff took temperatures, wore masks, cleaned carefully and practiced social distancing. 

“We have worked with Kanakuk Kamps to strengthen their plan and they have done extraordinary measures to up the disinfecting of the areas, to have the kids wear the buffs or the masks while they are around the other campers. Unfortunately, when you get a bunch of people together in closed quarters like this, this is what happens,” Pam Burnett of the Stone County Health Department told local news outlet ozarksfirst.com.

The camp sent out an email last week to parents alerting them to the positive COVID-19 cases, although at least one parent says it wasn’t soon enough. Mia Chase, from Dallas, Tex., said she didn’t know about the outbreak until she picked up her two sons, who were some of the last remaining at the camp. “That was the very first I’d heard that anything happened, that the camp was shutting down, that they were closing the term, that kids were going home.”

Chase said her sons told her the mask requirement was not being enforced properly. “Counselors were telling the campers to wear them, but that every five minutes or so, campers were pulling them down,” she said.

Another mother, Holly Thompson, said her children who attended K-2 described strict health measures. “They were required to take two showers a day, wear masks except while in the cabin; eating or doing sports, social distancing was always in effect, they couldn’t serve themselves meals, all food was proportioned and only the counselor for that cabin brought food from the kitchen and served the food. They took temperatures multiple times daily and every time they left and entered a building, they hand sanitized,” she said. “I have another kiddo going to a different Kanakuk towards the end of the summer, and I’m not even slightly concerned.”

None of the other Kamp Kanakuk sites have reported positive COVID-19 cases.

Other popular summer camps are offering a modified schedule of activities. Young Life has cancelled most summer camp activities.  Colorado-based Summit Ministries, which offers two-week summer residential experiences moved to a 100 percent virtual camp this summer. Most local YMCA branches are still offering a variety of day camps, though some are canceled. The Boy Scouts of America, shut down its flagship camp, Philmont Scout Ranch, which normally hosts about 25,000 Scouts and their adult leaders each summer. 

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Christina Darnell

Christina Darnell is a freelance writer who has contributed to WORLD, The Charlotte Observer, and other publications.