The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

85 teens, staffers get coronavirus at summer camp that didn’t require masks or check vaccine status

Pfizer coronavirus vaccine in syringes at London Middle School in Wheeling, Ill. (Nam Y. Huh/AP)
Placeholder while article actions load

More than 80 teens and adults have tested positive for the coronavirus after attending a central Illinois summer camp that didn’t check their vaccination status or require masks indoors, state health officials said.

All the campers and staffers at Crossing Camp in Rushville, Ill., were eligible for the shots, the Illinois Department of Public Health said in a statement this week, but officials knew of “only a handful of campers and staff receiving the vaccine.”

In total, 85 people who attended the summer camp in mid-June were infected, most of them teens, according to the health department. One unvaccinated young adult was hospitalized, officials said.

The spate of infections also appears to have spawned a secondary outbreak. Officials said some people from the camp attended a nearby conference, where 11 people subsequently tested positive.

The outbreak underscores the continued threat of the virus and its new, more transmissible variants as the nation’s mass immunization campaign has faltered and officials stress the urgency of getting more shots to young people. More than half of the U.S. population over 12 has received at least one shot, but the rolling average for daily shots has dropped to its lowest point since late winter, and vaccination rates have lagged in some parts of the country, according to The Washington Post’s tracking.

Illinois officials noted that the highly contagious delta variant of the novel coronavirus was an ongoing menace to youths and adults alike.

What we know about the delta variant

“The perceived risk to children may seem small, but even a mild case of covid-19 can cause long-term health issues,” said Ngozi Ezike, the health department’s director. “Additionally, infected youth who may not experience severe illness can still spread the virus to others, including those who are too young to be vaccinated or those who don’t build the strong expected immune response to the vaccine.”

A representative from Crossing Camp didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment Wednesday.

The camp acknowledged the outbreak in a statement on its website, saying camp leaders had made the “difficult decision” to postpone its program for fourth- and fifth-graders until mid-August.

“We were so looking forward to spending time with your campers this weekend, but we believe the best way to value and love our students, difference makers, and staff is to delay camp until a safer time,” the statement read.

Crossing Camp describes itself as a “Christ-centered” camp created for K-12 youths whose “priority is to provide an opportunity to encounter Jesus — and have fun doing it.” Located next to a lake in rural Rushville, Ill., it features a multipurpose recreation center, a 500-seat auditorium, athletic fields and lodging for 350, according to its website.

Such superspreader events were common during last year’s surges in coronavirus cases, with weddings, choir rehearsals, house parties and even a White House ceremony giving rise to severe outbreaks. Vaccinations can help prevent clusters of infections from arising, but the risk remains high as new variants push out other less contagious versions of the virus.

This week, Los Angeles County public health authorities urged unvaccinated and vaccinated people alike to don masks again inside restaurants, stores and other public indoor spaces because of the growing threat posed by the delta variant. Countries around the world have revived public health protections over concerns that the variant could hamper global efforts to contain the pandemic.

The variant has already strained health-care systems in places with low vaccination rates, including rural Missouri, and states such as Arkansas, Nevada and Utah, where less than half the population has received one shot.

In Illinois’s Schuyler and Adams counties, where the outbreaks tied to the camp occurred, about 40 percent of the population is vaccinated, state health officials said. Statewide, about 55 percent of the population has received the shots.

The Schuyler County Health Department said in a statement last week that it was conducting contact tracing and working with the camp to “provide guidance and mitigate the situation.” Officials said they followed federal health guidance for disinfecting the facility and encouraged unvaccinated locals to wear face coverings “for the safety of the entire community.”

Health officials in Oregon recently reported a coronavirus outbreak almost equal in size. At least 74 people were infected after attending a church service in Salem, Ore., where maskless worshipers packed onto a stage and sang together for more than an hour. The church had previously sued to block pandemic public health measures enacted by Oregon’s governor.

Federal health officials have warned that young people are increasingly being hospitalized because of the coronavirus and have urged teens and 20-somethings to get vaccinated. The push is a cornerstone of the White House’s vaccination strategy going into summer.

President Biden warned about the perils of the delta variant in a speech last week. “It’s a variant that is more easily transmissible, potentially deadlier and particularly dangerous for young people,” he said.

Read more:

Los Angeles urges everyone to mask up because of delta variant — even the vaccinated

When will 70% of adults in your state have received at least one dose of coronavirus vaccine?

Coronavirus vaccines are widely available in the U.S. So why are scientists working on new ones?