Free COVID-19 testing for children and staff could help keep Ontario camps open this summer while the pandemic drags on, organizers say.

Day camps in Ontario were allowed to open with COVID-19 restrictions last year, while overnight camps were ordered to close throughout the summer.

With plans to welcome campers again this year, a group for Ontario camps said COVID-19 testing, along with other safety measures, is key to ensure the safety of campers and staff.

“Much more progress is needed to secure a testing program,” said Jack Goodman, the owner of Camp New Moon in Baysville, Ont.

“Testing needs to be equally accessible regardless of the socio-economic status of camps or the children they serve.”

Goodman leads the Ontario Camps Association's COVID-19 task force and has been working with public health and government officials to create guidelines for the camp season.

The group wishes to secure the government's support for a universal testing program for all campers and staff, regardless of a camp's financial resources, he said.

Testing for day camps would be slightly different from overnight camps, he said, noting that day camps would likely need random asymptomatic antigen testing.

The province's Ministry of Health did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Day camps under COVID-19 restrictions are similar to classes at schools, where campers and staff are in cohorts of no more than 10 people, said Thomas Appleyard, the association's management consultant.

Ontario camps have been urging the government to allow overnight camps to operate this year, arguing children don't go home every night and don't have exposed to the community.

“The big trick is to drive down that risk of COVID entering that isolated environment through testing and screening,” Appleyard added.

“Children have paid a huge price during this pandemic. The main reason we want camps open is so that children can have the opportunity, for a period of time, to step away from all of that.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 16, 2021.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of the Facebook and Canadian Press News Fellowship.