COVID-19 strikes local Jewish day camps

Strict protocols help limit cases at Plano Chabad, JCC

By Sharon Wisch-Ray
TJP Editor and Publisher
Two local Jewish day camps were impacted by COVID-19 last week. Chabad of Plano’s Camp Gan Israel had two campers and two counselors test positive for the coronavirus and the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center had one person in the camp community test positive. Each camp took the necessary steps appropriate for their setup as guided by the Collin County and Dallas County health departments respectively.

Chabad of Plano

On Monday, July 13, Rivkie and Rabbi Menachem Block made the difficult decision to close Camp Gan Israel, Chabad of Plano’s day camp, two weeks into its four-week program after two children and two counselors tested positive for COVID-19.
“We had to do the right thing, we had to protect the kids and their families,” Rabbi Block told the TJP.
Camp Gan Israel had been following county and state health department as well as CDC recommendations. As it is a licensed child care facility in the Texas, the guidelines are stringent, and parents were appreciative of the seriousness with which Chabad was taking precautions. Eighty children ages 2 to 7th grade were enrolled.
“I felt like the camp was doing everything they possibly could to keep the kids safe,” said Laura Hacker, whose 5-year-old twins Rachel and Josh were attending camp. Hacker is also on Chabad of Plano’s camp committee.
By all accounts, the summer had been going well and the kids were enjoying camp. Parents noted that after being at home for so long they were eager for their young children to have some social interaction.
Doreen Preis, a child psychologist, had her two children, Ben, almost 5, and Dan, almost 2, enrolled in Gan Israel.
“For Ben, he’s happy at home, but I can see how happy he is to go to camp,” said Preis, who moved here from Tel Aviv in October for husband Ron’s job.
Hacker agreed, explaining that she is lucky that she has twins and they have each other to play with all the time, but there is no substitute for the social and emotional gains children get from playing with other children and interacting with people other than their parents.
“Right away I saw immediately for both of them a happiness that had been lacking for the last few months. …They were kids again — they were happy, they were singing camp songs and talking about their experiences.”
This is exactly the service the Blocks aimed to provide in reopening the camp, once the health department and governor gave the all-clear in June.
“The parents were really grateful. The parents needed it, the kids needed it.
“There are so many parents that didn’t feel comfortable to come but there were a lot of parents that did feel comfortable to come. We provided a service, we did it, we’re happy we did it. We served the community,” said Rabbi Block.
The Blocks have gone a step further to protect the greater Chabad of Plano community. On Thursday, they announced that Chabad of Plano’s Lang Center would close indefinitely until it was safe to hold services there once again.
The shul had been holding daily minyanim and Shabbat morning services. All classes were being held online and will continue.
“Safety is the most important thing. People appreciate that,” Rabbi Block said.
At press time, Tuesday, Rabbi Block told the TJP that he had learned of no new cases associated with camp.

Aaron Family JCC

The Aaron Family JCC was beginning the final week of its first of two sessions Monday, July 13, when Camp Director Tara Ohayon learned that a member of one of its family pods was exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19.
Immediately Ohayon convened the J’s COVID response team and called the Dallas County health department.
Ohayon explained that the J spent the next day and a half with the health department, who did the contact tracing and recommended that the affected “family” (camp pod) quarantine for 14 days and that the grade-school aged camps close Tuesday, July 14, for deep cleaning. The J’s preschool camp, Camp Simchah, which is contained in it’s own wing in the Goldberg Early Childhood Center did not close because there is no interaction between those children and the other camps.
With 300 to 350 participants in its day camp program at any given time, the JCC has used a pod system called “families,” in order to highly choreograph the movement of campers and staff throughout the day. Thus, the COVID response team was able to identify exactly where the group had been and if they had come into contact with anyone outside their pod.
Ohayon explained that she was apprehensive as she began to make phone calls to alert parents of the campers and the staff under 18 that their children would need to quarantine and wouldn’t be allowed back at camp until Monday, July 27.
“I was nervous about it, but they were kind and supportive. They are grateful for our transparency and the steps we’ve taken to ensure safety to the best of our ability ” said Ohayon.
Ohayon said that that morning, one dad stopped her during morning carpool to say, “I want you all to hear that we are appreciative of everything you’ve done,”
At press time, Tuesday, Ohayon reported that no new cases of COVID-19 in the camp community had been reported to the JCC.
There are four other Jewish day camps in session in the Metroplex: Ann and Nate Levine Academy, Anshai Torah, Chabad of Dallas and Lil Goldman Early Learning Center in Fort Worth. To date there have been no COVID-19 cases reported at those camps.

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