A summer camp in the District of Muskoka has decided to shut down after several COVID-19 cases were linked to an outbreak.
In a letter to parents this weekend, Muskoka Woods Camp says it mentioned during drop-off that an outbreak was ongoing in one cohort.
The Rosseau, Ont., camp says it found another positive case outside of the original cohort and has cancelled its fifth week.
It says campers must be picked up as soon as possible and full refunds will be issued for the week.
Muskoka Woods Camp CEO John McAuley was unavailable for an interview, but he sent the CBC a statement from the camp saying "single digit cases within one cohort" were discovered on July 31, the end of the camp's fourth week.
When an additional positive case was discovered during the arrival of guests for the fifth week, the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit declared an outbreak, according to the camp.
"With the health and safety of our guests and staff being our top priority, we made the decision to cancel Week 5. We continue to follow all Public Health protocols and are working closely with them on a date when we can reopen," the statement said.
Camp has been 'transparent' about COVID-19 cases
One of the parents who sent their child to the camp's fifth week is Sherrie Mae Guthrie. She said she dropped her twelve-year-old son, Beckett, off at the camp at 3:15 p.m. on Sunday.
When they arrived at the camp, they learned while in queue that there were positive COVID-19 cases detected. The camp reassured them that the public health unit was informed and that all safety measures and policies were being followed, she said.
Just a couple hours later, her son called her asking to be picked up as the camp had declared an outbreak and cancelled the remaining week.
Guthrie says the camp has been "very transparent" with her during the whole process. On her end, she and her family are fully vaccinated and self-isolated two weeks before camp started.
She said she thought the camp would offer her son a chance to boost his mental and social well-being after spending a year indoors and online.
"We felt those basic needs for him outweighed the possibility of him having contracted COVID," she said.
As per camp instructions, Beckett, like other children, had to submit a negative PCR test.
"He wasn't a carrier," Guthrie said. "So we felt it was the best decision at the time."
She said that the camp ran its first four weeks successfully as far as she knows. With 450 campers expected for its fifth week, the camp had followed its COVID-19 protocols.
"I think the camp has been exceptional. From day one the camp has been nothing but transparent," Guthrie said.
Transmission risk remains high in indoor spaces
Dr. Anna Banerji, a pediatric infectious disease specialist from the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, said the risk of COVID-19 transmission remains high at camps where kids share the same indoor air space inside cabins.
"Try to spend most of the time outdoors," she said.
She said the best thing that parents can do to prevent transmission is make sure their children are vaccinated before sending them to camp, as Guthrie did.
Banerji says PCR tests can sometimes return false negatives, especially if the virus is incubating or if it is early in the infection.
"You're going to miss some cases if you're just relying on PCR," she said.
Overnight camps in Ontario were allowed to open under strict protocols when the province moved into the second phase of its reopening plan in early July.
Under the final protocols laid out by the province, campers are required to stay within cohorts, self-isolate 14 days prior to arrival at camp and be screened and tested for the virus while at camp, among other things.