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When Is It Right To Return To In-Person Meetings And Camping?

When can we go back? The scouting question for the month of May! Just about everyone is itching to get back to in-person troop meetings and asking what they should be doing. With the states starting to open up everyone is asking what is the guidance for scouting. Some adult leaders are ready to go now and some are content with online meetings for the foreseeable future.  Just like everything else, Some people are looking for what others are doing first and some are pioneers blazing the trails for others to follow.  Some people are worried about the “second wave” and some are not. Just about everyone’s summer camp is closed and for those camps that are still open, everyone is wondering how that experience is going to measure up. Some councils are even pulling out all the stops and trying to create a great virtual summer camp experience. So… lots of questions for the start of the summer of 2020 and the scouting experience. We recommend that your unit needs to make two checklists. One checklist for meeting in person and the other for going camping or on activities. Here are some good items to add to those checklists…

  1. You need to pay close attention to your state and county mandates: No question. If your state is opening up but your county isn’t, you have to follow the rules of where your Charter Organization resides. There really isn’t any way around that. If you plan to camp in a different county make sure you know what “phase” that county is in to abide bit it’s rules.
  2. The ‘public meeting number’ is the metric you need to watch: This includes people in one area at a time like parents, adult leaders, and scouts. Ask yourself, “Are you the only unit meeting there at the same time?” It all adds up.
  3. Find out what your Charter Organization is doing. When do they plan on opening up again? If you are ready but they aren’t then what? Ask about their concerns with your unit meeting on their property. 
  4. Your council leadership should be putting out guidance now. Ask your unit commissioner for some documentation either online or printed copies. Nationals has been in meetings with many councils about their recommended guidance. It is fair for you to ask your council for theirs.
  5. Take a poll of your parents and ask what their comfort level is. Go into it expecting mixed results and that not everyone will agree with when you want to bring people back together. Try not to give a specific date but rather something like “Hey, we are thinking about starting up in-person meetings next month. What are your thoughts?” Fully expect that there will be some parents not comfortable with attending meetings in person to begin with. Ask them what they need to see before allowing their scouts to come back to in-person meetings. Make sure to write it all down. There will be “feelings” and we will go into how to slowly work at that too.
  6. You absolutely need consensus from your adult leaders in the unit on your checklists. Get agreement on that checklist with all your adult leaders. You may not have all the parents on board and that’s ok because they can choose not to participate but you do need to make sure your adult leadership is in sync because they are the ones attending and overseeing the meetings. For ScoutsBSA troops, you need to make sure your youth senior leadership is on board as well since they are supposed to be running the program. If that checklist is agreed to and when everything is checked off, there is little there to haggle over. It’s much cleaner than the Scoutmaster/Cubmaster/Advisor simply saying we are going on this date… then it’s opinion vs opinion and it only gets ugly after that.
  7. Set the expectation that plans may need to be suspended given a flareup of Covid-19 and there are new governance measures in place.

How can you slowly bring back in-person scout meetings especially considering parent comfort levels? Here are some suggestions…

  • Start your meetings outside. Weather is going to be a small factor but hey… it’s scouting. Fresh air, laughing and doing some physical activity (like the physical fitness requirements for ranks or Personal Fitness merit badge) could be just the ticket.
  • The simple science states people in close proximity (even closer than social distance recommendations) should be wearing a mask and keeping their hands clean. Make sure scouts have personal pocket-sized hand sanitizers and personal masks. If your agreed checklist states that everyone needs be wearing a mask then make it mandatory for the meetings. If not, then make sure parents are aware of that decision. Have some disposable masks and some hand sanitizer for those that forget. No matter which way your unit decides to go on this volatile subject, someone is probably going to be upset about it which is why there has to be agreement by the group in the first place.  
  • Make everyone bring a meeting backpack. Everyone should have their own book, pencil, paper, water bottle, towel for sweat, first aid kit, disposable gloves, etc for meetings.
  • Make sure there is sanitizer in bathrooms with written instructions on how to use it.
  • Social distancing and patrol meetings will be a bit tedious but if you are creative you can manage. Eventually it stands to reason social distancing will decrease over time.
  • Keep meetings short and fun. Remember when you first started online meetings? Scouts and leaders need some time to change things up and get used to something different.
  • Go into all this with a perspective that everyone won’t agree 100% and that there will be a learning curve and everyone needs time to adjust. Give some grace and ask for some. 
  • Make it very clear that if a scout doesn’t feel good then they can’t make the meetings. There is no sense adding extra stress to everyone having someone there who everyone is scared to interact with…

In the end the parents make the call whether their scout attends meetings or campouts. There shouldn’t be any pressure put on them, or their scout, to convince them one way or the other. When parents are comfortable enough they will bring their scout(s). Offer up the 30 day rank challenges or what merit badges are still be offered online as alternatives if they choose not to jump in right away with in-person meetings. You won’t understand everything going on in their household nor will they understand everything going on in your unit. Leave it at that and move on.

Camping Again As A Unit

Thinking about camping? Treating it like “normal” is definitely going to be a non-starter for a lot of parents. If your unit checklist for camping is completely met and all systems are go then like everything else, make sure your unit moves slowly ahead allowing some flexibility and understanding. Over time it will get more normal. Have patience and the fortitude of a saint. 🙂

 Here are some items to consider before you unit is camping again.

  • Traveling: Definitely not “social distancing friendly” as units did it before the pandemic. Our recommendation is to have the parents drive their scouts to and from the campground. Don’t make it too far so if something were to happen the parents can easily pick up their scout(s). Change this up only when social distancing recommendations have are changed.
  • Personal Gear: Tents, Mess Kits, Bottles, Clothes, Chairs, etc… Everyone must have their own stuff… no borrowing. This may put a strain on some scouting families that rely on some troop gear. If a scout needs to borrow something, properly identify it for that scout to use the entire campout. Properly clean and sanitize before it goes back into the troop trailer/room.
  • Eating: Our recommendation for the first couple campouts to have a dedicated cook team for all the meals and properly instruct the scouts to wear masks and perform necessary precautions to prevent cross contamination (stuff they should have been learning all along with cooking). Food should be purchased by 1 person. Snacks can’t be shared. Serving spoons are touched only by gloved, dedicated people per meal.
  • Cleaning: You could go the easy route and use paper products for all personal eating equipment so cleaning is minimum. Have dedicated pot scrubbers and perform all the sanitation precautions which we teach scouts to have like sterilization water, gloves, soap, rinse water, etc… If you have a wash stand, the dedicated, gloved people are dispensing the wash, rinse and sanitizing waters.
  • Interactions: Gathering around the campfire may be quite the circle and you may not smell the smoke as clear with a mask on (if that is what your unit has agreed to) but the idea is that you are out there and enjoying nature and learning with friends. Take it for what its worth. Fire tools such as saws, axes should be handled by gloved people.
  • Personal Space: People will be pretty skittish with personal space. Don’t take it personally. Adult leaders, you may need to remind your scouts that people do need their own personal space.
  • Sickness (non Covid-19): The first person to sneeze or cough on a campout will find themselves in an awkward position with everyone immediately treating them like they have the plague. 🙂 Obviously, if a scout has a cold or just getting over a cold it would be less stressful on everyone (including that scout/scouter) if that person waits till the next campout. A lot of people will be quite vulnerable to the common cold with having been isolated along with constant use of antibacterial solutions. Expect common colds to run through the community for a while.

We hope that this can help guide units to figure out when it’s best to slowly ramp back up to an in-person program. Again… regardless of anything else, your unit must follow federal, state, and local governance measures. This should include guidance from your charter organization. These above suggestions are a good starting point and I am sure after working with parents, adult leaders, and your charter organization you will find a path right for your unit. If your unit isn’t ready, then don’t push it. Allow some time to slowly walk forward out of the past couple months and for people to get more comfortable with the idea.

Good Luck Out There Scouters!

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About the author: tzizak
Tony Zizak is a long time scouter, Eagle Scout, and the scoutmaster of Troop 119 Ellettsville, IN. He has served on Wood Badge staff as a Troop Guide. He has been to scout camps across the country and was a certified Program Director, Aquatics Director and a Scoutcraft Director. As a youth Tony received his Vigil Honor and served as a Lodge Chief for Tseyedin Lodge #65. Reach out to him for any questions you may have on any of his articles posted

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