More than 125 children and adults who attended a religious camp in Texas last month have now tested positive for COVID-19, camp officials said this week in a statement that also warned that many more people may have been exposed to the virus.
In addition to the 125 people who tested positive, “hundreds more were exposed to COVID-19 at camp,” Bruce Wesley, senior pastor for Clear Creek Community Church, wrote on the church’s website. The church is based in League City, about 30 miles southeast of Houston. “And hundreds of others were likely exposed when infected people returned home from camp.”
As of early May, masks were “optional in all areas,” according to the camp’s website. Telephone and email messages sent to the camp Tuesday evening were not immediately returned.
“From the beginning of the pandemic, we have sought to love our neighbors by practicing strict safety protocols,” Wesley said in the statement. “We are surprised and saddened by this turn of events. Our hearts break for those infected with the virus.”
More than 400 people participated in the student ministry camp, according to the statement. The camp also said it has consulted with the Galveston County Health District and canceled services for now, but will resume activities Sunday.
In a statement Tuesday, Galveston health officials said the delta variant of the virus was detected in three test samples linked to “a church camp.” said Dr. Philip Keiser, interim head of the Galveston County Local Health Authority, “In this outbreak, at least as of now, it appears most of the people who have tested positive are old enough to be vaccinated.” The camp served children in grades six through 12, it said.
News of the outbreak in Texas comes during the return of the traditional summer camp season, when day and sleep-away camps are about to welcome children who just completed a school year dramatically altered by COVID-19 health restrictions, and many children are looking for relief from the soaring summer temperatures.
In Illinois, 85 teenagers and adults tested positive for COVID-19 after attending a camp that did not check the vaccination records of participants or require masks indoors, the Illinois Department of Public Health said last month. At least 25 staffers at a Christian summer camp in Oklahoma tested positive for COVID-19 in June, Public Radio Tulsa reported.
Officials across the country have rolled back face-covering and social distancing rules that were put in place more than a year ago, even as new variants of the virus have quickly spread in areas with low vaccination rates. In Galveston, 44% of residents have been vaccinated, slightly above the statewide vaccination rate of 41%.
In guidance for people attending or operating youth camps, the Centers for Disease Control said in late May that “everyone” ages 12 and older should be vaccinated, and camps “should be supportive of campers or staff who choose to wear a mask.”
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.