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Summer Recreation, Camps and Pools Frequently Asked Questions

March 30, 2021

The Wolf Administration understands the need for families to secure child care and recreational options for children and youth during the summer months. The Pennsylvania Department of Health is issuing the following Frequently Asked Questions to provide guidance to summer camp operators, public bathing places, part-day school age programs, and other entities that provide necessary child care and enrichment and recreational activities for children and youth during the summer months.

Summer programs include child care facilities regulated by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services and the following part-day school age programs:

  • A part-day school-age program that operates for fewer than 90 consecutive days per calendar year from the date the program opens to the date the program closes;
  • A part-day school age program that operates 2 hours or fewer per day for 3 or fewer days per week;
  • A part-day school age program that has a single purpose for the children's attendance and that purpose is the only focus of the program (e.g., soccer or art class); and
  • A drop-in program where a child or youth may come and go at will.

This guidance does not apply to public school-operated summer programs or extended school year services. Guidance related to public schools is developed by the Pennsylvania Department of Education and is available here.

Q: What guidelines should summer programs for children and youth follow to minimize the spread of COVID-19?

Summer programs that provide child care and enrichment and recreational activities for children and youth are permitted to operate and should follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Suggestions for Youth and Summer Camps and the CDC Supplemental Guidance for Guidance for Child Care Programs that Remain Open. Programs licensed by the Department of Human services, must also adhere to the appropriate regulations.

Overnight organized camps registered with the Pennsylvania Department of Health are permitted to operate and should follow the CDC's Suggestions for Youth and Summer Camps and Special Considerations for Overnight Camps.

Summer programs and overnight organized camps must comply with the Secretary of Health's Universal Face Coverings Order that requires all individuals age 2 years or older to wear face coverings to protect everyone in the Commonwealth from the spread of COVID-19. The order outlines situations when a face covering must be worn and includes limited exceptions to the face covering requirement. 

Q: When operating during the COVID-19 pandemic, are there additional requirements for summer programs beyond what is required by the CDC and the Secretary of Health?

Summer programs must develop a written health and safety plan that follows the CDC's Suggestions for Youth and Summer Camps and post the plan on the summer program's publicly available website prior to providing services to children. If a summer program does not have a publicly available website, alternatives must be used to communicate the health and safety plan to parents and caregivers, such as mailing the plan to all registrants or having written information available at drop off and pick up locations.             

It is important that summer programs implement COVID-19 mitigation strategies, including universal masking, physical distancing, hand hygiene, and cleaning and disinfecting to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread.

In addition to the CDC's Suggestions for Youth and Summer Camps, the American Camp Association has developed a Field Guide for Camps and COVID-19 Resource Center for Camps that may be helpful resources for operating camps. The CDC Youth Programs and Camps Readiness and Planning Tool may also assist program operators in planning for summer programs.

Q: Are there occupancy limits for organized camps?

In accordance with the Secretary of Health's Mitigation and Enforcement order, organized camps may operate at up to 75% of the maximum capacity stated on the applicable certificate of occupancy. If special events or gatherings are held beyond normal business operations, organized camps must follow limitations for gatherings and events as outlined in the Secretary of Health's order amended March 1, 2021.

Q: Are there limitations on group sizes for summer programs?

Mitigation strategies, such as physical distancing, universal masking, hand hygiene, and cleaning and disinfecting are essential to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19. Organizations operating summer programming for children and youth should consider the following strategies to maintain physical distancing:

  • If possible, groups should include the same group members each day, and the same staff providers should remain with the same group every day.
  • Consider whether to alter or halt daily group activities that may promote transmission.
    • Keep each group of children in a separate room or space.
    • Limit the mixing of children, by staggering playground times and keeping groups separate for special activities such as art, music, and exercising.
  • Consider staggering arrival and drop off times and/or having staff come outside the facility to pick up the children as they arrive. Your plan for curb side drop off and pick up should limit direct contact between parents and staff members and adhere to social distancing recommendations of six feet during this time.

Q: Are staff and youth required to wear face coverings while participating in child care and summer programs?

All staff and youth age 2 years and older must wear face coverings during child care and summer program operations in accordance with the Secretary of Health's Universal Face Coverings Order. Please consult the Universal Face Coverings FAQ for additional information on masking. 

The Department of Health recognizes that getting younger children to be comfortable wearing face coverings and to keep them on may create some difficulties. Under these circumstances, parents, caregivers, licensed child care providers in community-based and school settings, or responsible persons may consider prioritizing the wearing of face coverings to times when it is difficult for the child to maintain physical distance from others who are not a part of their household  (e.g., during carpool drop off or pick up, or when standing in line at school).  Ensuring proper face-covering size and fit and providing children with frequent reminders and education on the importance and proper wearing of cloth face coverings may help address these issues.

Any child who cannot wear a mask or face shield due to a medical condition, including those with respiratory issues that impede breathing, a mental health condition, or disability are not required to wear face coverings. Individuals who are communicating or seeking to communicate with someone who is hearing impaired or who has another disability, where the ability to see the mouth is essential to communication, also are not required to wear a mask.  Other face coverings, such as plastic face shields, may also accommodate such disabilities.

If a child age 2 years or older is unable to remove a face covering without assistance, the child is not required to wear one.

Youth in overnight camp may remove their masks once inside their cabin as long as physical distancing is maintained.

Additionally, child care and summer programs may allow children to remove their face coverings when they are:

  1. Eating or drinking when spaced at least six feet apart;
  2. Seated at desks or assigned learning or play spaces at least six feet apart; or
  3. Engaged in any activity at least six feet apart (e.g. face covering breaks, recess, etc.).

Q: Are public bathing places regulated by the Pennsylvania Department of Health and other community pools permitted to operate?

Public bathing places and other outdoor community pools are permitted to operate provided they follow CDC's Guidance for Public Pools, Hot Tubs, and Water Playgrounds During COVID-19.

People should not wear cloth face coverings while engaged in activities that may cause the cloth face covering to become wet, such as when swimming at the beach or pool. A face covering that is wet may make it difficult to breathe. For activities such as swimming, it is particularly important to maintain physical distance from others when in the water.  People must wear face coverings while out of the water and maintain social distancing of at least 6 feet from others who are not a part of their household.

Q: Are there occupancy limits for public bathing places regulated by the Pennsylvania Department of Health and other community pools?

In accordance with the Secretary of Health's Mitigation and Enforcement order, public bathing places and other community pools may operate at up to 75% of the maximum capacity stated on the applicable certificate of occupancy and the maximum bather load. If special events or gatherings are held beyond normal business operations, public bathing places and other community pools must follow limitations for gatherings and events as outlined in the Secretary of Health's order amended March 1, 2021.

Q: Can summer programs require COVID-19 vaccination for staff or enrolled children? 

COVID-19 vaccination is voluntary and cannot be mandated for staff.  Currently, COVID-19 vaccines are not approved for children younger than 16 years of age.

Q: Is there specific guidance for camping, campgrounds and group camping separate from organized summer camps for youth?

Pennsylvanians should follow guidance issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR).

Q. How do I know which DCNR facilities are open to the public?

Use the DCNR interactive map to identify camping facilities that are open or closed within state parks and forests.