Camp Ta-Kum-Ta’s annual week-long summer camp in South Hero for young people fighting cancer will still take place this year, but it’ll need to be held differently. The coronavirus pandemic has just led the camp’s administration to suspend its in-person programs for the remainder of the year.
According to executive director Dennis DePaul, the impetus for this move began last month with Dr. Raphael Landovitz, an infectious disease specialist at UCLA who flies from Los Angeles to Vermont every summer to volunteer at the camp. “He started the conversations with us, saying ‘this doesn’t look good. This is not looking good for the camp’s programs, and how are we going to keep our children safe?’,” DePaul said.
From there, camp administration began to speak with the pediatric oncology department at UVM Medical Center. “It became pretty clear through those conversations that having our children together, being immunocompromised, just was not a good idea. There is no way for us to guarantee safety for those families.”
DePaul added that Dr. Landovitz was also a presenter at a recent medical town hall meeting for the Children’s Oncology Camping Association International. “And the same thing was said there,” DePaul said. “There’s not a safe way to bring these children together at this time. There’s just not a good way to do that because you can’t screen for it. There’s no way that’s effective other than (widespread) testing, and at that time, testing was difficult — it’s getting better, but it was difficult at that time. Put those pieces together, and there really isn’t any other answer.”
Even before this step, Camp Ta-Kum-Ta was forced to cancel its annual winter weekend last month because of COVID-19; everyone who registered has been sent a care package. Staff and volunteers are also working on other means to keep campers and their families connected.
“Cancer is a full-family disease,” DePaul said. “It doesn’t affect just the child, so we absolutely need to cater to all of our various programs, from the moms to the dads to the children to the siblings, and we’re looking for ways to continue to do that.”
Instead of the usual week-long in-person gathering, Camp Ta-Kum-Ta might hold a week filled with online gatherings like virtual cooking classes or a virtual prom…all with appropriate cybersecurity protections in place.