Herzl Camp Adds COVID Vaccine Mandate For 2022

Herzl Camp will require all campers and staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to be at camp in 2022, according to an email sent to camp families Tuesday morning, Dec. 7. The camp board finalized the decision made by the camp’s medical committee the night before.

“The medical committee provided the recommendation based on the information provided to them and what’s publicly available,” said board president Neil Fink. “They felt it was an important recommendation for camp and the board was very supportive of that.”

In the email to families, Camp Director Drea Lear and Interim Executive Director Holly Guncheon said that other public health strategies may be put in place as the start of camp gets closer.

“This vaccination requirement is one tool in our strategy to create a safe and healthy camp community,” they wrote. 

Fink knows that the mandate will not be appreciated by everyone. 

“It may create a decision point for families, and we’re supportive either way,” Fink said. “We wanted to make sure families had enough time to make a decision if they weren’t in agreement, or so families could have that time if created a decision” that they would register.

Herzl amended the cancellation policy so that families can cancel in writing without cancellation fees until Feb. 15, 2022, which is a month later than usual. 

Herzl Camp is the second of the three Jewish overnight camps that draw heavily from the Twin Cities to enact a vaccine mandate for campers and staff. The Union for Reform Judaism, which runs OSRUI in Oconomowoc, Wis., announced on Nov. 17 that all 15 of their camps will have a vaccine mandate for campers and staff. The moves to announce mandates have come since the CDC gave final approval for emergency use authorization for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine to be used for children ages 5-11 on Nov. 2.

Jacob Cytryn the executive director of Ramah in Wisconsin, said in an email that they are planning to require vaccination for all eligible staff and campers.

“Our medical committee will be reviewing ongoing developments from the CDC, APA, and ACA, as well as the possibility of new variants, boosters, etc.,” he wrote. “That may change the specific requirements in the coming months. We will provide our next update to our camp community in January.”

Last summer, both OSRUI and Ramah required the vaccine for staff and strongly recommended it for campers 12 and up. Herzl strongly recommended shots for both groups, although Guncheon said that only one staff member that was eligible to be vaccinated wasn’t — and that was due to a medical issue that prevented it. 

OSRUI made it through last summer COVID-free, and on a national level, Ramah’s overall success was documented in a CDC report released last month. The report showed that there were nine lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 among 7,173 campers and staff at nine different Ramah locations. Herzl’s summer was cut short when campers had to be picked up four days prior to the session ending because of an outbreak that hit four of the five programs at camp and affected nine different cabins.

Editor’s note: The writer is a Herzl parent, and the writer’s wife is a Herzl Camp Association board member.