‘It was incredible’: Overnight camp finds way to safely navigate pandemic

Camp Shahola became a secure bubble for three weeks, and successfully prevented community spread of the coronavirus. (Courtesy Duncan Barger)

Plenty of summer plans were wrecked by the coronavirus pandemic, but one summer camp upped its safety provisions to salvage what was left of the season.

A total of 114 boys and 75 camp counselors put aside fear and uncertainty to gather at the overnight Camp Shohola in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains this summer, and everybody was kept safe from the novel coronavirus.

There was no reported community transmission of the virus at the camp, which ran from July 26 to Aug. 15.

The family-operated camp in Greeley, Pennsylvania, has long-held ties to the D.C. area, established in 1943 by Frank Barger, a teacher at D.C.’s Sidwell Friends School.

“It was incredible — it was like being in a dream,” said Duncan Barger, the third-generation Shohola Camp director.

“We set a goal, we formulated a plan, we followed that plan … and we all did it together.”

The camp then became a secure bubble, with no one leaving or visiting, except for food delivery and a maintenance call. (Courtesy Duncan Barger)
Once it was declared to be safe, the campers cast off their masks and enjoyed being kids for a few weeks inside the bubble. (Courtesy Duncan Barger)

Duncan Barger succeeded his father, “Kit” Barger, and his grandfather in running the camp.

The plan — following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for overnight camps and advice from camp families in the medical profession — involved multiple rapid COVID-19 testing for staff and campers. Campers eventually had three separate tests.

Staff members arrived one week before campers, and two counselors without symptoms who tested positive were isolated.

The camp then became a secure bubble, with no one leaving or visiting, except for food delivery and a maintenance call.

After two rounds of test results showed that all counselors and campers were negative for coronavirus, campers celebrated by tossing their face masks into the air.

“We took our masks off and we sat down in our dining hall and ate a meal together, or we gave each other a high-five or a hug, which none of us had done for months with anyone outside our household,” Duncan Barger said.

” … You could see layers of stress and fear coming off of people, and the more you could see childlikeness and spontaneity and joy returning to their countenance, and it was one of the most rewarding things that I’ve ever been a part of.”

Parents were also happy that their children could have a break from the monotony caused by the pandemic and safely attend three weeks of overnight camp.

“I’ve received more letters of gratitude than I ever have before,” Barger said.

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