Jewish Journal


June 30, 2009

Local Jewish Camps Face Down Swine Flu


Photo by Greg Sykes, ATCC

Photo by Greg Sykes, ATCC

More than 40 campers and counselors from Jewish summer camps in Southern California have been sent home with flu-like symptoms. As of June 29, there have been several cases of Influenza A, which are currently being tested by the California Health Department to determine if they are the H1N1 strain, commonly known as Swine Flu.

Camp Ramah in Ojai has one confirmed case of Influenza A and has sent home 26 campers and staff, according to the camp’s executive director, Rabbi Daniel Greyber. Camp Alonim at American Jewish University’s Brandeis Bardin campus in Simi Valley has had six confirmed cases of Influenza A, and those campers all were sent home. None of them have been diagnosed as H1N1, according to camp director Jordanna Flores.

Wilshire Boulevard Temple Camps’ director Doug Lynn said “a small percentage” of the 280 campers and a few staff members at Camp Hess Kramer in Malibu were sent home with flu-like symptoms. As of press time Tuesday, none of the 110 campers at Gindling Hilltop, the other Wilshire Boulevard Temple Camp in Malibu, had been sent home. Camp JCA Shalom in Malibu also had no cases. 

The disease that caused a media frenzy earlier this year due to its rapid spread, H1N1 is a strain of Influenza A, whose symptoms include fever, muscle aches and a cough or sore throat. It is mainly spread through coughs and sneezes and is said to be no more dangerous than the average flu. Camps are susceptible to rapid spread because of the close living quarters, and are following guidelines created by the Centers for Disease Control for residential camps.

Many camps have attempted to avoid the problem entirely before the children arrived at camp. All Wilshire Boulevard Temple campers were required to take their temperatures before going on the buses headed for Hilltop or Hess Kramer. Camp Alonim also took campers temperatures upon arrival and sent anyone home who had a fever above 100. The incubation period for H1NI can range from 1 to 7 days.

“We do not believe at this point that our overall camp population is at significant risk, since all affected are quickly isolated from public contact,” Ramah California’s Medical Director, Dr. Andrew Spitzer, said in a statement. “While it would have been a blessing to completely avoid incidences of the flu at camp, we fully expected that it would appear at some point.”

H1N1 has affected camps across the country. Nine cases have been confirmed at Jewish camps in Texas, two at the JCC camp in Boynton Beach, ten participants meant to participate in a Birthright trip to Israel have been infected (after infecting 18 Israeli soldiers, reports the Jerusalem Post), and Camp Livingston, a residential Jewish Camp in Indiana, has shut down due to five confirmed cases of H1N1.

Camp Gilboa in the Angeles National forest is set to receive its first batch of about 85 kids on July 1, and no cases of Influenza A have been reported among the staffers who have been at camp for the two weeks of orientation. Camp Newman-Swig in Santa Rosa, on the other hand, has delayed its opening after 14 of 160 staff members tested positive for Influenza A. The state health department advised that some of the counselors have likely been infected with H1N1. Camp Mountain Chai in the Angeles National Forest had no reported cases after ten days of staff orientation and a few days of camp.

Protocols already were in place to deal with the flu outbreak. Camp Alonim and Camp Ramah both purchased nasal swabs that test for Influenza A and B in ten minutes. According to Flores, whenever a camper comes in with a fever of 99.5 or higher, they are immediately swabbed. If they test positive for Influenza A, they are immediately separated from other campers and sent home. Campers at the Wilshire Boulevard camps are allowed back only with clearance from a medical professional. The camp is working on a case-by-case basis with families regarding refunding any tuition.

According to Alicia Zimbalist, Public Relations Manager for the Foundation for Jewish Camps, residential camps have been in contact with one another via conference calls to compare precautions and procedures that they are taking to avoid the spread of the virus.

“We’re being proactive and overly cautious, since we’re in a residential facility,” Wilshire Boulevard’s Lynn said.

Purell and other sanitizers have become a permanent fixture throughout the camps; directors have instructed counselors to send children to the infirmaries immediately if they are experiencing any form of sore throat or fever, and they are constantly speaking about the importance of good hygiene.

“I stood up at lunch the other day and spoke about proper sneezing and coughing etiquette,” Rabbi Greyber said. Greyber also emphasized that the vast majority of campers and staff are aware of the situation, but are still having a great time and are excited about being at camp.

“The parent community has been very supportive and appreciative of all of the steps that we have taken to be safe.”

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