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Parents perturbed about COVID-19 cases at northern summer camp

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At least three positive cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed at Camp Bickell just outside of Timmins, and some parents are raising concerns about a lack of communication.

While news of the positive cases spreads on social media, parents with children at the camp say they haven't been told what's going on.

Some parents said they were not provided any information about the camp's health and safety protocols and learned the camp's nurse was conducting COVID-19 testing without parental consent.

Brittany Mageau signed up her 11-year-old daughter, Aleah, for next week's camp, before seeing these concerns online. She has been struggling to get answers.

"I've tried to call many times, to ask about information about the COVID cases going on and they have yet to answer," said Mageau.

"They answered my email with a very short sentence saying, 'the children are not at risk.' That was the end of it."

Joe Campbell, chair of the non-profit camp, told CTV he informed the Porcupine Health Unit about the positive cases. Campbell said he didn't declare an outbreak at the camp since those affected were sent off-site to isolate.

He said the camp did inform the parents of positive cases and those who shared living quarters with them, but said it's not camp policy to notify all parents of all campers about individual cases.

Campbell also said that Camp Bickell is exceeding public health recommendations for health and safety when it comes to preventing the spread of COVID-19.

'We are sanitizing everthing in sight'

"We are sanitizing everything in sight three times a day, our staff are wearing masks with all the kids," Campbell said.

"When we get into an indoor situation, where the kids are together, they wear masks. We have all their temperatures taken each and every day."

Out of the roughly 300 children who've attended the camp since May, only three have tested positive for the virus on-site, he said. He didn't mention whether the camp seeks parental consent for COVID-19 testing.

The Porcupine Health Unit said it could not comment on the camp's COVID-19 cases, due to confidentiality, but said, "There are currently no COVID-specific guidelines for summer camps, so standard protocols regarding infectious diseases apply. Those include working with all facility operators, including camp operators, to reduce the spread of infectious diseases."

Camps are required to develop safety plans, which must include a section on communicable disease control.

Campbell said Camp Bickell has a comprehensive safety plan, like any other summer camp, though it does not provide its health and safety policies to parents.

Families are welcome to call the camp and ask about its protocols, he said. According to the camp's website, campers can't contact their parents unless there is an emergency, in order to maintain an immersive experience.

Campbell maintains that Camp Bickell puts the health and safety of children at the highest priority and has been a popular and trusted summer camp for decades.

Though, he said, no one can guarantee complete safety from COVID-19.

"Can we guarantee we won't get another COVID case? No, definitely not," he said.

"Are we following all the protocols to make it as safe as possible? We certainly are."

Lack of communication 

Mageau said the camp's communication issues left her with a sour impression and said she is uncomfortable sending her daughter to the camp. She cancelled next week's booking and due to the late notice, she won't be refunded.

Had Camp Bickell provided its COVID-9 safety information upfront, Mageau said she may have felt differently.

"I feel like they should have sent a mass email letting us know exactly the details of what was going on -- how many cases, how they're protecting our children, what they're doing to prevent it," she said.

"Right now all I'm seeing is the negativity on Facebook and what people are complaining about and that's my impression, I'm not getting any facts from them directly."

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