On the morning of June 24, as dozens of Pittsburgh children eagerly waited in line to board the bus that would take them on their annual eight-hour journey to Utterson, Ontario, they found that, for the first time, they would have to pass a test before being allowed to board and find a seat.
A fever test.
This was the bus to Camp Ramah in Canada, where many local children from the Conservative movement spend their summers. But this year, in the wake of the H1N1 flu epidemic, also known as swine flu, no one with a fever would be allowed at camp.
Temperature checks, where a counselor placed a thermometer in the ear of each would-be camper, took place in every city sending children to Ramah, not just in Pittsburgh, in an attempt to keep the virus out of the camp.
But despite the precautions, swine flu hit Camp Ramah.
While only two cases of the virus have been confirmed at the camp, about 80 children have exhibited flu-like symptoms, said Michael Wolf, director of Camp Ramah in Canada.
The camp is no longer testing for the virus because the test is often inaccurate, Wolf said. Instead, the camp is treating all campers and staff who exhibit a fever of 100.4 degrees or higher with the same protocol as if they had swine flu.
All cases have been mild, with campers recovering within a few days, said Wolf.
“Our staff have been outstanding and the reaction from our parents has been extremely supportive,” Wolf said, adding that several families living in Toronto were able to take their children home to recover. The children returned to camp after they recuperated.
At least two Pittsburgh children were treated for the flu. Both are fine now, and are back to enjoying regular camp activities.
Jewish camps throughout North America have been forced to deal with swine flu this summer. The JTA has reported Camp Newman-Swig in Santa Rosa, Cal., delayed its opening when 14 out of 160 staff tested positive for Influenza A, which the California Health Department believed was probably swine flu. At least three campers at Camp Ramah Darom, in the mountains of north Georgia, tested positive for swine flu earlier in the summer.
While several children at Emma Kaufmann Camp in Morgantown, W.Va., have been treated for flu-like symptoms, “there have been no confirmed cases of swine flu” at the camp, said Brian Schreiber, president and CEO of the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh, which runs the camp.
“Some kids have stayed extra time with a fever at the health center, and a few kids went home for a day or two,” Schreiber said, adding that the camp is not testing for swine flu because “the tests they are doing now are not reliable.”
“Even for the kids that have gotten hit, it’s been pretty mild,” he noted.
A spokesperson for the Monongalia Health Department said EKC reported that two boys from the camp came down with flu-like symptoms and were sent home, but the illness was not confirmed as being swine flu.
Whatever virus is hitting these camps, it seems to be subsiding.
As of Tuesday, Schreiber said, EKC had no one in the health center. Wolf said that although the camp treated 19 new fevers in a single day during the first month of camp, the second month seemed to be starting out well, with only one new fever so far this week.
“Hopefully, we’ll continue this trend,” Wolf said.
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)