The debate to reopen schools has been added to the grocery list of public debates on what should be open and what should remain shuttered in this era of COVID-19.
Advocates of reopening argue that because children appear not to be negatively affected by Corona, social distancing restrictions are not relevant for children and should be relaxed. Keeping schools shut sets children back not only academically but also socially. Furthermore, school closures impose significant childcare burdens on parents increasing household stress and preventing parents from working.
Critics of reopening stress that although children are not themselves negatively affected by having Corona, they are still capable of infecting others. As such reopening schools will lead to Corona running rampant through society as students become infected at school and inadvertently bring it home to their families. Teachers are also unlikely to agree to return to school given the high risk of catching Corona.
Both advocates and critics of reopening schools make valid points. It is hardly fair to force children to remain inside when they are unaffected by Corona. On the other hand, sending children back to school will surely increase the spread of Corona throughout the general population.
Fortunately, there exists a simple solution that allows children the freedom to play with their friends without putting their parents at risk of infection, sleepaway camp. Opening sleepaway camps is a nuanced solution to the paradox that children are not negatively affected by Corona yet are capable of spreading the disease to their elders. At sleepaway camp children are likely to become infected by their peers, however by not returning home at the end of the day they are unable to infect their families. As the weeks pass the children will develop immunity to Corona and will become unable to pass on the disease. By the time children return home from summer camp, they will no longer be able to spread Corona to their parents or older relatives. Children who attended summer camp will be able to return to school in the fall without the fear of inadvertently infecting others.
Camps will have to take measures to mitigate the danger presented by Corona to their staff. Camp staff with face to face interaction with campers should be composed of young adults for whom contracting Corona is statistically equivalent to the seasonal flu or individuals who have already contracted COVID-19 and have developed the antibodies to fight off the disease. Mass employment of young adults as camp counselors will also have the benefit of providing jobs to a demographic which has experienced mass unemployment because of the shuttering of stores and restaurants.
Older staff should seek to minimize contact with campers and instead communicate through the use of videoconferencing technology. Logistical and medical facilities such as kitchens and medical aid stations should be located away from the campers and precautions taken to protect workers from contracting the disease. The logistics of running a sleepaway camp are sure to be more challenging than in previous years, yet the benefits of sending children to camp cannot be understated. Widespread enrollment of children in sleep away summer camps will allow for earlier reopenings of the primary and secondary educational school systems and will lead to herd immunity in a key demographic.
Jews are no strangers to sending our children away in times of danger; Moses was famously sent down the Nile to live amongst strangers in the bible. In the past Jews were forced to send their children away to be raised in foreign cultures by strangers without knowing if their children would ever return to them. While the time has once again come to send our children away, we have the privilege of knowing that we are entrusting our children to Jewish educators for only a short period of time.