AUSTIN, Texas — Updated at 4:34 p.m. throughout with additional details from state officials.
Texas officials announced the creation of a program that will give youth summer camps access to rapid COVID-19 testing.
Camps that are licensed by the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) will be able to apply to participate in the program, according to a release sent Tuesday from Gov. Greg Abbott.
The rapid antigen tests will be used to test staff and campers during the summer months, the release said. These are shallow nasal tests that return results in 15 minutes, according to the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM).
Testing cannot be required for campers or staffers, according to TDEM. Individuals or their legal guardian must agree to the test.
DSHS said there are currently 343 licensed youth camps in Texas and essentially meet their criteria for the program.
To be defined as a youth camp, a program must meet this criteria, according to DSHS:
- Provide supervision, instruction, and recreation
- Accommodate at least five minors during each camp session
- Operate as a youth camp for no more than 120 days each calendar year
- Host children who are apart from parents or guardians
- Operate as a youth camp for four or more consecutive days
- Operate as a youth camp four or more consecutive hours per day
- Operate as a youth camp only during school vacation periods
- Offer, during each camper session, at least two youth camp specialized activities in an outdoor setting such as: waterfront activities, archery, horseback riding, challenge courses, or riflery that requires special technical skills, equipment, or safety regulations supervised by a qualified adult at all times.
Abbott said in a release that identifying positive cases and mitigating outbreaks is key for stopping the spread of the coronavirus.
"The COVID-19 Testing Program for Texas Youth Summer Camps will help camps safely operate throughout the summer by quickly identifying positive COVID-19 cases among campers and staff," said Abbott. "I encourage qualifying summer camps to apply for this program so that we can continue to keep Texans safe from this virus."
The Dallas Parks and Recreation Department said they plan to apply for the program and hope that eventually it will expand availability to all camps, not just those licensed by DSHS.
"It's a game changer for everyone involved: Families, staff, kids. So we're really hoping that we will also be included in this in this announcement," said Crystal R. Ross, deputy director with Dallas Parks and Recreation. "Prior to 2020, we averaged nearly 5000 kids that we were served just during the summer season, so it's our hope that this will be expanded to us as well."
While COVID-19 vaccines are available to people 16 and up in Texas, no vaccine has been approved for use in young teens or children.
While children are less likely to contract COVID-19 or become seriously ill, they are still at risk of becoming sick if exposed.
The program is being offered by the governor and TDEM. Interested summer camps can apply to participate here.
The number of tests each camp receives will depend on the number of campers and staff, according to state officials.