Summer Camp in Age of Climate Change

  • Jul 21, 2021
  • McLean Connection

Some of the area’s youngest aspiring thespians are spending part of their summer honing their craft at Arlington’s Encore Stage & Studio’s camps. Noticeably different this year than in past are new safety precautions that include mask mandates and protection from the heat.

“We've spent more time outdoors this summer because that is what parents requested,” said Sara Duke, Executive Director, Encore Stage & Studio. “We’ve provided special training for our staff on heat safety and recognizing heat-related illnesses.”

Heat safety protocols at Encore and other local camps have been revised to address not only a gradual reopening as the pandemic abates, but also the gradual increase in average temperatures partly the result of climate change.

“For sure it’s causing huge extremes in weather,” said Susan H.B. Agolini, Ph.D., Clare Boothe Luce Assistant Professor of Biology at Marymount University. Agolini just completed a heat mapping study as part of a team created by the Virginia Foundation for Independent Colleges. “Camps have to remember hydration and be aware that extreme heat can exacerbate health issues like asthma.”

Employees of camps run by the Fairfax County Park Authority are given daily reminders and video training. “We send out poster reminders for signs of heat-related illnesses and the need for frequent rest/shade breaks,” said Judy Pedersen, Fairfax County Park Authority. “We send out YouTube clips for supervisors to use with staff as toolbox safety talks. We also send out reminders for camps to schedule air conditioning breaks indoors throughout the day whenever possible.”

A traditional summer camp experience, which includes long days spent outdoors while slathered in sunscreen and armed with insect repellant, has been curtailed for some as a result of a hike in safety warnings for children. “As extreme heat is increasing in many regions throughout the United States, it’s important to know how to prevent heat illness, and to identify and treat children who are affected,” said Dr. Benjamin Schwartz, M.D. Director of Epidemiology and Population Health with the Fairfax County Health Department.

Training such as that given to camp workers at Encore and Fairfax County camps include information on how to recognize the signs of heat illnesses.

“Symptoms of heat exhaustion that campers and staff should recognize include an elevated body temperature, goose bumps, dizziness or weakness, headache, increased thirst, irritability, muscle cramps, or nausea and vomiting,” said Schwartz. “If any of these symptoms occur, it’s important to move to a cool place, loosen clothing, put cool, wet cloth on the skin and sip water. Call 911 right away if symptoms get worse, last longer than 1 hour or if the individual begins vomiting. Always follow up with your child’s pediatrician or health care provider following an instance of heat illness.”

As the reality of increased temperatures and subsequent danger, safety protocols become more critical.

“Due to the pandemic, most camps are spending extra time outside this year,” said Kurt Larrick, Assistant Director, Arlington County Department of Human Services. “Parents and guardians can talk to camp operators about what sort of mitigation measures they have in place for hot days, and let them know if your camper has any health issues that might be triggered by the heat.”