‘Just kind of mushroomed’: Missouri Boy Scout camp closes early due to COVID outbreak

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A Missouri Boy Scout camp sent kids home early after a handful of people attending the last session of the summer tested positive for COVID-19, camp leadership and local health officials said Monday.

In recent days, seven people at the 4,200-acre H. Roe Bartle Scout Reservation near Osceola began exhibiting symptoms and tested positive for the coronavirus, said Alan Sanders, director of support services for the Heart of America Council, which oversees Boy Scouts from Kansas and Missouri.

Each infected person was sent home, as is protocol.

After speaking with the St. Clair County Public Health Department, camp leadership decided to cut the final session short, Sanders said.

Nancy Stephen, administrator and chief financial officer with the county health center, said she was in contact with the camp doctor throughout the summer. They saw about one case per session, and in each case sent home the person who tested positive as well as the other exposed campers and staff.

Leading up to the most recent session, they conducted a deep clean of the camp, Stephen said. Then the new group of campers came in for the final session. But in the last session they saw more positive cases than any week prior.

“This past week it has just kind of mushroomed,” she said.

Sent home early

On Friday, the camp informed Stephen that they had six positive cases, along with more than 80 kids exposed. So they decided closing the camp early was the safest decision.

Instead of going home Wednesday, as planned, campers and staff were sent home Monday, Sanders said. It was the last of five 10-day-long summer sessions.

In the four sessions prior, each of which last 10 days, a total of four other campers and staff had been sent home after showing symptoms, said Matt Armstrong, director of marketing and communications for the Heart of America Council. In total, the camp served 7,200 campers this summer.

Stephen, with the health department, noted that the majority of the campers are not from St. Clair County, and that none of the positive cases that came out of the camp were from county residents. She said to her knowledge, only one staff member tested positive for COVID-19, and that staffer had been vaccinated.

Throughout the summer, masks and social distancing were recommended, but not required.

Late last week, camp leadership decided to return to outdoor dining protocols to allow for more social distancing as they watched delta cases rise across the region, Sanders said. They also limited the large group gatherings, including campfires.

The camp was also open with COVID-19 protocols in 2020. No known COVID-19 cases were reported among campers and staff, though camper totals were down by about 2,700 in 2020 compared to 2021, Sanders said.

In the spring, Sanders said many scouting families expressed interest in returning to camp with COVID-19 precautions in place. Many more families returned this year after a summer spent at home.

“It shows us that our families are still wanting outdoors and wanting the scouting program,” he said.

The camp is recommending that any staff or campers who experience symptoms of COVID call their physician.

Other Kansas City area summer camps close early

In late July, a summer camp in Johnson County shut down after eight COVID-19 cases were reported.

The camp, hosted by the Johnson County Park and Recreation District, was held at Clear Creek Elementary School in Shawnee.

In early July, a summer camp in the Kansas suburbs was listed as one of four camps in Kansas listed as COVID-19 cluster sites by the state health department.

AGK Ministries summer camp at the Wheat State Retreat Center near Maize in Butler County reported 36 cases between mid-June and early July, according to the Kansas Department of Health and Environment.

Editor’s note: This story has been corrected to accurately reflect the spelling of St. Clair County.

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