Dear friends,

We’re writing today to give the whole CDSS community an update on our summer camp programs. We know that many of you do not come to CDSS camps, but we also know that many folks are keeping track of who is doing what and when. So, listed below is an update on the status of CDSS camps, as well as background info and transparency about our decision-making process.
Status Update
CDSS is moving forward with COVID vaccine-required adult camp sessions for 2021 and will open registration by June 1. We are working now with staff and program directors to make updates to program plans as needed. We will continue to update with changes as they become clear. Each session will adhere to national, state, and local public health ordinances in effect at the time of the session. CDSS will be continually monitoring public health guidelines and keep registered campers informed of program adjustments as they are necessary. 

Two of our sessions, Campers’ Week at Pinewoods and Cascade of Music & Dance at Louise, are intergenerational weeks. While children are a big part of these communities, these intergenerational weeks differ from family-specific weeks by having robust adult programming. We are in discussion with those communities now about whether to proceed, with program adjustments.
chart showing status of each camp week; find this info in text form at
Background on our Decision-Making Process
While we are excited by the prospect of returning to camps, the decision to move forward has been, and continues to be, complex. For some, we have been too slow in making this decision. For others, it is too soon to return to camp. Still others do not attend CDSS camps but are monitoring decisions about in-person events this year. 

Over the past six months, the Board and staff at CDSS have been researching, monitoring, and listening, as we try to figure out the best course of action for our 2021 camp programs. CDSS Camps are an important part of both our organization’s mission and our business model. They also impact the financial situation of the program staff and camp facilities we work with. 

Last fall, as the world waited for vaccines to be tested and approved, the questions about running 2021 camps were about safety: Will it be safe to run camps? Will vaccines be approved and distributed in time to curb the spread of the virus? Will we reach herd immunity? One vaccine was approved, then another, and another. Initially, vaccines were prioritized for the eldest and most at-risk of the population, but then eased to allow vaccination for more adults. The entry of vaccinations into the pandemic scene provided the first hope that perhaps camps could be possible.
As the first months of 2021 rolled on, it became clear that there were problems with the rollout. In the US, the location of vaccination sites, the necessity of appointments, the political pressure to boost overall vaccination numbers, and the fact that people had to navigate a time-consuming online process to get appointments, created major equity issues. The vaccines were disproportionately going to middle and upper class white people in urban centers. State and municipal governments in the US are making adjustments to better serve marginalized populations, but there is still work to do to address the inequities of vaccine access in the US. Internationally, the production and availability of vaccines has been inconsistent. Many CDSS constituents live in Canada where vaccine availability has been a hurdle, leading to a much slower vaccine rollout.

Survey of CDSS Recent and Registered Campers
Last month we issued a survey to recent and deferred 2020 campers, asking what factors would make them more or less likely to attend a CDSS camp in 2021. We heard from many – and we agree – that it was not a perfect survey. However, it did give us a sense of what conditions are overall most important to our camper community. 
bar graph showing survey answers to various potential camp scenarios
We received 695 survey responses. As you can see from the chart above, the conditions that made respondents least likely to come to camp were “no all-camp dances, meals, or gatherings” and “any unvaccinated people at camp.” We also received over 370 comments and we read every single one of them. Some people indicated via survey comment or email that they would not be coming to camp this year regardless of the conditions, and that perspective is not represented in the graph above. We are sorry that we didn’t directly ask that question and we thank everyone who made sure we knew that was the case for you. 

In the past month, after a long research and consultation process, and as CDC guidelines were updated for vaccinated individuals, we decided that the only way we could conduct safe camps sessions in 2021 was to require vaccination of all attendees. We consider “safe” to mean we are able to ensure minimal risk of transmission within and beyond the camper population. As many of you also know, just this week the CDC has issued new guidance for vaccinated individuals. These new guidelines allow groups of vaccinated individuals to gather (with other vaccinated people) without social distancing protocols. The question was no longer how we could safely run camps, but whether we should run sessions knowing that we must require COVID vaccination.
Who Else Gave Input on This Decision
The following sources and consultations have been part of making this decision:

  • Communications, feedback, and links to information received from people who are concerned about the risk of COVID transmission, the inequity of vaccine access, and the long term effects of isolation on their physical and mental well-being 
  • The facilitator of CDSS’s Cultural Equity Advisory Group, Dr. Dena Ross Jennings, who is also a member of the Dear Pandemic team of doctors and scientists answering questions about the COVID-19 pandemic
  • Public health professionals
  • Medical doctors
  • Other arts organizations
  • Our insurance carrier
  • Legal council to better understand what is legal and what is advisable for CDSS to do in a residential camp setting
Balancing Hope and Caution
We all know the healing power of singing, dancing, and making music together. And the past year has reminded us about the importance of human contact and togetherness. So many of us have been traumatized by the sudden loss of human contact during the pandemic. Many of us in the US are lucky now to see a bit of light at the end of that tunnel because we were able to be vaccinated. Despite many challenges, the percent of total US population vaccinated keeps slowly increasing (roughly 35.8% of total population at the time of this message, according to the CDC). At the same time we know that there are those for whom vaccination is not, or not yet, an option. To that end we will also be offering new types of programming this summer that will be more widely accessible, such as online gatherings, workshops, and more.

We see, too, that it is important to balance hope with caution. This pandemic is not over and there is a danger in rushing back to normal too soon. At a time when understanding the nuances in public health guidance is critical, the population is exhausted by the grappling and keen to feel a sense of certainty. 
Given all that we know now, we believe that running vaccine-required camps this year will do good. And we believe it is important for the healing and reunion to begin when and where it can be done safely. We know that this message will not affect everyone the same way. For some, this news will be welcome and a relief. Others will be disappointed or frustrated. Our larger community is not all on the same page. We know that camps will not feel normal this year, no matter what. It is our sincerest hope that prevention and treatment options for this disease will continue to improve and that by next year we will be able to gather together in more and more ways.

Katy German, Executive Director
Gaye Fifer, President
Photos by Avia Moore and Doug Plummer. All taken pre-pandemic.