A Message To Our Entire Camp Community.....
We want to begin by thanking our entire camp community for their patience and understanding over the last 6 months, as you have endured with us the many COVID-19 updates, plans, and uncertainties. We are writing to you today, extremely disappointed in the position we are currently facing as it pertains to the safe-reopening of HOC for the summer of 2021.
As you may be aware, Ontario Premier Doug Ford made a comment in the media on May 16th, that ‘summer camps will be open this season”. As we noted in our last blog message, this was a surprise to hear and even though this message seems promising, it isn't an official government reopening announcement. In addition, its intent not only comes considerably late in our planning process but comes with continued uncertainty as we have yet to receive Overnight Summer Camp Guidance documentation that has been approved by the Ministry of Health.
This has been a major roadblock, as we anticipated and needed this guidance to be available months ago so that we could fully evaluate the documentation and determine HOC’s Safe-Reopening Plan. Timing has been crucial to this process and we now find ourselves in a position where we are not confident that there is enough time to work through our plans with our local health unit (North Bay Parry Sound District Health Unit) so they can determine and approve the parameters that HOC can safely open (or stay open through the summer) as an overnight summer camp this season.
Up until this point, we have tried to prepare for camp as best we can, with the intention of keeping camper and staff safety as our top priority, by making the necessary decisions to help facilitate a COVID-19 ready summer camp program. These decisions have included;
- Adjusting registration to 50% capacity;
- Adjusting programming and scheduling to ensure camper cohorting;
- Not offering day camp programming but rather, focusing on creating an overnight camp bubble environment;
- Preparing for early staff arrival in order to quarantine and provide an extended training session period.
Even with all those adjustments, we have now found ourselves in a position where we have already experienced the negative impact of our current circumstances including;
- Having lost many staff to more stable and secure job opportunities;
- A lack of certified staff. Many staff have been unable to update mandatory job certifications throughout the pandemic due to lockdown restrictions. This has a direct impact on our ability to ensure staff in certain positions have the correct and current certifications that are necessary for our camp operations;
- The inability to bring the necessary number of spring staff on-site in early May to begin all critical cleaning and maintenance required to open a full seasonal business for the start of Week 1.
As similar as we are to other overnight camps in Ontario, there is also some concern that HOC’s unique programming may also bring with it further uncertainty. Our one-week programming model has the potential for a higher risk of community spread since we have a higher turnover of different campers within the summer season. In addition, our programming requires an off-site location (arena) and therefore we are unable to create a closed on-site ‘bubble’ model.
Very recent discussions with our local health unit reiterate this uncertainty because they do not have a clear understanding at this time on how they will enforce an outbreak or if the off-site arena will be an issue for our operations.
In addition, the initial information provided indicated that if any of our staff or campers show any symptoms of COVID-19, they would be removed from their programming/cabin and assessed for 24 hrs. If their symptoms continue, they would be tested for COVID-19 and placed under isolation procedures where they would remain isolated from others (or possibly sent home) until a negative PCR test is achieved. Campers in the cohort would also be required to self isolate or have modified programming until test results are received for the symptomatic camper. In a short 6 night scenario of camp, this isolation/testing procedure requirement could prove detrimental to the camper experience.
Now comes the hard part. Given the outlook and challenges we have and are currently facing, together with the continued uncertainty and lack of approved guidance, we have found ourselves in the difficult position of having to make a final decision on the fate of camp this summer.
AS OF TODAY, WE HAVE INFORMED ALL OUR FAMILIES, CAMPERS, AND STAFF THAT WE WILL NOT BE OPERATING OVERNIGHT SUMMER CAMP PROGRAMMING AT HOCKEY OPPORTUNITY CAMP FOR THE SUMMER 2021 SEASON.
This was not a decision we came to lightly or quickly and we want our camp community to know that we have made all reasonable efforts with safety as our top priority, to plan and prepare for HOC to reopen as a children’s overnight summer camp this season.
Even with the positive outlook in Ontario when it comes to vaccine distribution (especially with the announcement of vaccine eligibility for 12-17-year-olds) and the current downward trend of case numbers, we are still faced with the fact that COVID-19 is still very prominent and concerning, especially knowing that even with the vaccine, COVID-19 can still penetrate our camp community with significant consequences.
Camp is all about providing a safe environment for our entire community to enjoy all the wonderful experiences it offers. We successfully provide this safe environment through our understanding of risk and risk mitigation planning. The current circumstances and continued uncertainty do not lend themselves to fully understanding the risks and restrictions of COVID-19 on our camp community and therefore, we are further concerned that we would be rushing our plans, which could prove to be very detrimental.
We wish the circumstances we are faced with right now weren’t so uncertain and that by now we would have many more answers than questions. We are not willing to ask our families, campers, and staff to be a part of an overnight summer camp experience where the details get worked out as we go. This wouldn’t happen under normal circumstances, never mind while dealing with a pandemic situation. If we truly felt it was safe and were ready to open, we would do so.
As this comes on the heels of not being allowed to open last season, we know that the impact of cancellation this season will be even greater for those in our camp community. We too have children who are going to be saddened by the news and the fact that they will miss another summer of going to camp with their friends.
We know that children and youth are struggling right now to cope with the ongoing restrictions, remote learning, and lack of social, sport, and activity opportunities. We are devastated that we can’t move forward as an overnight summer camp to provide those much-needed experiences to our campers and staff this summer. We are sorry and can only ask our camp community to understand the incredibly difficult decision we have had to make and hope they can find another great opportunity to experience this summer, whether it be in Northern Ontario or in their own communities.
One question you may have is why not consider pushing the start date and only cancelling part of the summer in hopes of waiting to get the guidance and approvals. If that was the case, we would still be gambling with the uncertainty of the climate of COVID-19 in Ontario leading up to and into summer. In addition, if we begin operations and then we are mandated to shut down, we are then fully obligated to certain financial minimums required to meet contract obligations. Costs that cannot be recovered by a shortened season considering we have already made difficult financial decisions.
As you may be aware, HOC is not the first camp to finalize their decision and NOT reopen as an overnight summer camp this season, and we assume we won't be the last. We support all other camps managing these significant decisions at this time and we understand that everyone is guided by different circumstances that impact those decisions. We want to thank the Ontario Camps Association (OCA) task force who have worked so hard to support all camps over this last year with their guidance, advocacy, and planning. They will continue to provide this support for all Ontario camps, regardless of what decision each camp makes on its own.
Although HOC has been significantly impacted financially from last year’s cancellation and now the loss of summer camp revenue this summer, we feel that we are able to maintain a position where we can keep the doors open for the future. HOC has been in business since 1966, and we will continue to bring the fun and laughter of overnight summer camp to HOC for many years to come. Therefore, we look ahead with gratitude to welcome campers and staff to HOC in 2022!
We hope the joy of summer camp will continue to live in your heart and mind.
Until we see you again, all our best,
Camp Director Kevin
What’s Next…..Is There An Opportunity To Pivot Safely To Another Model?
On-Site Family RetreatsAs an option to possibly pivot to a safer and less volatile on-site business model for the summer of 2021, we have recently had a discussion with our local health unit and determined there may be an opportunity to move to a Family Retreat style business model. This model would be similar to other hotels, resorts, and properties that rent out separate accommodations to individual family units and provide meals and activities within that family ‘cohort’ concept.
Although we would still be under a significant time crunch to get these plans and preparations together for this type of pivot, with approval from our Local Health Unit, Insurance and the necessary lifting of Ontario restrictions in the area out of Lockdown status, we feel that this could be a safer opportunity to still provide a ‘camp style’ experience for family cohorts who would like to get away outdoors to beautiful Northern Ontario.
As we investigate this option in the upcoming days and weeks, we will make sure to let our summer camp families know all the details in hopes that they may still consider joining us this summer if the opportunity arises.
Day Camp Hockey School ProgramsGiven that many Ontario hockey players have gone without much opportunity for skill development and gameplay over the last year, and that we have a talented group of staff that are eager to share their knowledge and training on the ice, we are looking to expand our hockey training off-site this summer and take it on the road to a few different cities.
Again, given the current lockdown restrictions, many arenas do not have their schedules/rates for the summer and therefore we still need to determine programming, staffing, timing, and costs as they pertain to the hockey school format.
We are excited at the possibility of taking the on-site HOC program on the road. Stay tuned for more information in the weeks ahead.