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A Staff Member At A Summer Camp Got COVID-19. Then More Than 250 Others Tested Positive.

Almost half of the staffers and campers who tested were infected with COVID-19. The CDC said singing and cheering "might have contributed to transmission."

Posted on July 31, 2020, at 4:06 p.m. ET

A sign on a sidewalk outside a building reads "Welcome back campers, check-in / check-out, please stay in vehicle"
Emily Elconin / Reuters

A check-in sign at the Carls Family YMCA camp in Michigan.

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More than 250 campers and staffers at an overnight camp in Georgia were infected with the coronavirus after being together for roughly a week, according to a research paper released on Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Researchers with the CDC and the Georgia Department of Public Health tracked infections at the camp, dubbed "Camp A," after a teenage counselor was sent home on June 23 with symptoms. The counselor tested positive for COVID-19 the next day, at which point the camp began sending people home. Within weeks, 260 campers and staffers had tested positive, showing how quickly the virus can spread among young people.

"This investigation adds to the body of evidence demonstrating that children of all ages are susceptible to SARS-CoV-2 infection and, contrary to early reports, might play an important role in transmission," the study said.

Georgia is at least the fourth state to see an outbreak at an overnight camp. In early July, a Christian camp in Missouri shut down after 82 kids and staffers contracted the virus. Camps in Texas and Arkansas also shut down after reporting cases of the virus.

A total of 344 campers and staffers in Georgia were monitored for the study, with 76% testing positive for the virus. The researchers did not report any deaths and said the most common symptoms documented were fever, headache, and sore throat. The positivity rate was higher among staffers and campers who stayed in larger cabins with more people.

The study's authors said the camp adhered to some but not all of the CDC's recommendations for summer camps. It required staffers to wear cloth masks but did not make them mandatory for campers.

"Additionally, camp attendees engaged in a variety of indoor and outdoor activities that included daily vigorous singing and cheering, which might have contributed to transmission," said a statement from the CDC about the study.

The agency noted the challenge that overnight summer camps face in preventing the spread of infectious diseases, "considering the amount of time campers and staff members spend in close proximity."

The CDC has advised that the best tools available to prevent COVID-19 spread in settings with young people are "correct and consistent use of cloth masks, rigorous cleaning and sanitizing, social distancing, and frequent hand washing strategies."

The details in the paper align with the closure of YMCA Camp High Harbour in Georgia, though the CDC declined to comment on whether its study was about the YMCA camp.

CNN reported that the YMCA camp was shut down after a staff member tested positive for COVID-19 on June 24. The YMCA of Metro Atlanta, which operates the camp, did not respond to a request for comment.

When news of infections at Camp High Harbour broke, Lauren Koontz, CEO and president of the YMCA of Metro Atlanta, said in a statement to CNN that all staffers and campers had "passed all mandatory screenings."

In early June, Koontz spoke to the press about her organization's plans to open its camps.

"How do you get a 5-year-old to socially distance?" she said. "Well, you put them in Hula-Hoops and you make it a game."

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.