Updated Guidelines for Unit Meetings & Activities During COVID-19 Pandemic

Governor Tom Wolf has announced updates to the Commonwealth’s COVID-19 guidelines.  We have assembled guidance below for Scouting units to follow as they consider holding in-person meetings, activities, service projects, and other Scouting events.

The items outlined below are guidelines and steps to guide units concerning meetings and other Scouting activities.  These guidelines draw heavily from information provided by the National Council of the Boy Scouts of America, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

As units plan meetings,  service projects, camping, and all other official Scouting activities, adult leaders should review the BSA’s “Restart Scouting Checklist” as a useful resource.

All units are required to follow all state or local guidelines that are currently in place. Government officials have frequently updated these guidelines as conditions warrant during the pandemic, so please be sure to follow the most current guidelines in planning and conducting all Scouting activities. Units must obtain permission from their chartered organization and meeting host (if different than your chartered organization) for all in-person meetings and Scouting events.

Guiding Principles to Keep in Mind

According to the CDC, the more people an individual interacts with, and the longer that interaction lasts, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread. Location can be a factor, too, with outdoor activities generally being less risky than indoor activities. The risk of COVID-19 spread increases as follows:

  • Lowest Risk: Meetings and other activities are conducted virtually. Only essential activities occur in person.
  • More Risk: Small, in-person gatherings are held. Outdoor activities and meetings are prioritized. Individuals from different households remain spaced at least 6 feet apart and do not share objects. No food is served at meetings or events. Participants are required to wear masks (if able) and maintain social distancing. Rigorous cleaning and disinfecting practices are implemented.  Attendees at meetings and events come from the same local geographic area (e.g., community, town, city, county).
  • Higher Risk: Indoor activities are held. Medium-sized in-person gatherings are adapted to allow individuals to remain spaced at least 6 feet apart.  Food is served in pre-packaged boxes with disposable utensils to eliminate the need for shared items or congregating around serving tables. For meetings and events, a limited number of attendees come from outside the local geographic area.
  • Highest Risk: Standard operations and programming are resumed. Large in-person gatherings are held where it is difficult for individuals to remain spaced at least 6 feet apart. Food is served “potluck” or family-style. Many event attendees come from outside the local geographic area.

Guidelines for In-Person Unit Meetings

  • As noted above, virtual meetings and other virtual activities present the lowest risk for contracting or spreading COVID-19.  During this current resurgence in COVID-19 cases and hospitalization, unit leaders are encouraged to consider using virtual meeting platforms.
  • Indoor gatherings and events are limited to no more than 15% of the maximum capacity for the facility as defined by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Life Safety Code, commonly referred to as the “Fire Code.”
  • Outdoor gatherings and events are limited to no more than 20% of the facility’s maximum capacity.
  • With the approval of your chartered organization, units may hold indoor and outdoor meetings, events, and activities only in full compliance with these mandated limits. In most cases, this means that unit meetings and events may be scheduled with appropriate adherence to the other guidelines below.  Units should make sure to discuss plans and arrangements before scheduling meetings or events.
  • Identify participants who fall under the CDC’s group of higher-risk individuals.  Notify all participants about the risks of participating since COVID-19 exposure cannot be eliminated.
  • Disinfect/sanitize the meeting area before and after unit functions, including tables, chairs, doorknobs, restrooms, and other surfaces.  Make sure you coordinate with your Chartered Organization or the meeting host location to follow all appropriate cleaning procedures.
  • Question everyone before they enter the meeting location regarding fever, chills, or other COVID-19 symptoms.  Do not allow anyone with these symptoms to enter.
  • Maintain physical distancing (minimum of 6 feet).
  • All attendees must wear face coverings during regular Scout meetings.
  • Handwashing facilities, such as restrooms, must be readily available for participants at a Scouting event or meeting.  If handwashing facilities are unavailable, hand sanitizer should be readily available. 
  • The PA Department of Health recommends holding meetings outside if possible.  It is easier to sanitize because there are fewer surfaces for the virus to live on.  This is certainly more difficult to do during cold weather months.   
  • PA’s mandatory wearing of face coverings includes all indoor meetings (or enclosed spaces), irrespective of physical distancing.  It also includes outdoor settings where individuals are unable to consistently maintain a distance of six feet from individuals who are not members of their household.”

Special Considerations for Camping and Outdoor Activities

The more people Scouts interact with, and the longer that interaction, the higher the risk of COVID-19 spread.

  • Lowest Risk: Small groups of campers stay together all day, each day. Campers remain at least 6 feet apart and do not share objects.  Outside activities are prioritized.  All campers are from the local geographic area (e.g., city, town, county, community).
  • More Risk: Campers mix between groups but remain at least 6 feet apart and do not share objects. Outdoor activities are prioritized.  All campers are from the local geographic area (e.g., community, town, city, or county).
  • Even More Risk: Campers mix between groups and do not remain spaced apart. All campers are from the local geographic area (e.g., community, town, city, or county).
  • Highest Risk: Campers mix between groups and do not remain spaced apart. All campers are NOT from the local geographic area (e.g., community, town, city, or county).

We know that many units are eager to get outside and camp again.  The good news is that in most cases, Scouts can participate in camping activities as long as they follow the below guidelines:

  • Face coverings:
    • Teach and reinforce the use of cloth face coverings. Face coverings may be challenging for campers (especially younger campers) to wear in all-day settings such as camp. To comply with PA’s expanded mask-wearing order, face coverings MUST be worn by Scout Leaders, other adults, and campers in outdoor settings where individuals are “unable to consistently maintain a distance of six feet from individuals who are not members of their household.” Information should be provided to staff and campers on proper use, removal, and washing of cloth face coverings.
      • Note: Cloth face coverings should not be placed on:
        • Babies or children younger than 2 years old
        • Anyone who has trouble breathing or is unconscious
        • Anyone who is incapacitated or otherwise unable to remove the cover without help
      • Cloth face coverings are meant to protect other people in case the wearer is unknowingly infected but does not have symptoms. Cloth face coverings are not surgical masks, respirators, or other medical personal protective equipment.
      • As the PA guidelines require for coaches of youth sports, Scout Leaders and other adults should wear face coverings at all times, unless doing so jeopardizes their health.
  • Sleeping Arrangements:
    • Align mats or beds so that campers and leaders/parents sleep head-to-toe at least 6 feet apart.
    • Add physical barriers, such as plastic flexible screens, between bathroom sinks and between beds, especially when they cannot be at least 6 feet apart.
  • Cleaning:
    • Monitor and enforce social distancing and healthy hygiene behaviors throughout the day and night.
    • Encourage Scouts and participants to avoid placing toothbrushes or toiletries directly on counter surfaces.
    • Clean and disinfect bathrooms regularly (e.g., in the morning and evening, after times of heavy use). Develop a schedule for routine cleaning and disinfection.
    • Ensure safe and correct use and storage of cleaners and disinfectants, including storing products securely away from younger Scouts or young children.
  • Transportation:
    • Limit the use of carpools or vanpools. When riding in an automobile to a Scouting event, encourage Scouts to ride to the event with persons living in their same household. 
    • When transporting Scouts, drivers should practice all safety actions and protocols as indicated (e.g. hand hygiene, cloth face coverings).
  • Equipment:
    • Discourage the sharing of items that are difficult to clean, sanitize, or disinfect.
    • Keep each camper’s belongings separated from others.
    • Ensure adequate supplies to minimize the sharing of high-touch materials to the extent possible (e.g., assign supplies or equipment to a single camper), or limit the use of supplies and equipment to one group of campers at a time and clean and disinfect between use.
    • Avoid sharing electronic devices, toys, books, and other games or learning aids.
  • Food and Drink:
    • Space seating at least 6 feet apart.
    • To the extent that it is practical, all Scouts and leaders are to bring their own water and drinks to Scout activities. Water coolers for commonly sharing through disposable cups could contribute to the spread of COVID-19 and their use should be avoided unless absolutely necessary for storing water. Units must strictly limit the number of people touching the cooler and practice good hand hygiene when dispensing water from coolers (e.g., set specific water refill breaks and have one adult wearing gloves be responsible for pushing the button/opening the valve on the water cooler instead of each Scout doing it for himself/herself). Fixed water fountains should not be used.
    • Use disposable food service items (utensils, dishes). If disposable items are not feasible or desirable, ensure that all non-disposable food service items are handled with gloves and washed with dish soap and hot water.  Individuals should wash their hands after removing their gloves or after directly handling used food service items.  No self-serve buffet meals.
  • Planning:
    • Protect Scouts and Volunteers who are at Higher Risk of Severe Illness from COVID-19. Offer options for Scouts and volunteers who are at higher risk for severe illness (including older adults and people of all ages with certain underlying medical conditions) that limit exposure risk.
    • Prioritize outdoor activities where social distancing can be maintained as much as possible.
    • Have a plan if a person becomes sick. Scouts who have had close contact with a person who has symptoms should be separated and follow CDC guidance for community-related exposure.  If symptoms develop, individuals who are sick should be cared for following CDC guidance for caring for yourself or others who are sick

If you have any questions on these guidelines, please contact your District Executive.  Thank you for keeping our Scouts, volunteers, and Scouting families safe by following these guidelines.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Should we hold in-person Scouting meetings, outings, or activities?

A: With safety in mind and based on guidance from state and national health officials, virtual meetings and activities present the lowest risk of contracting or spreading the virus.  Units are permitted to hold in-person Scouting meetings, outings, and activities only in full compliance with all of the guidelines above.  It is not required that units hold in-person activities or events.

Q: Our Chartered Organization will not let us meet in-person.  What can we do?

A: The Chartered Organization “owns” the unit and annually sign a Charter Agreement with the New Birth of Freedom Council.  If a Chartered Organization is not comfortable with a unit holding in-person Scouting activities, then the unit must follow the guidance of the Chartered Organization.  This applies to meetings, service projects, fundraising, camping, trips, and any other Scouting activities and events whether they take place physically at the chartered organization or not. 

Q: If meeting locations are open, can units meet or do other in-person activities?

A: Unit in-person activities are permitted only under the guidelines listed above.  If in-person activities take Scouts out of their immediate communities, unit leaders need to consider both the regulations of their county and regulations for wherever they intend to travel.

Q:  What if our unit wants to travel out-of-state for an activity?  Is that allowable?

A.  The mandate requiring testing or quarantine following travel between states has been lifted.  Units should still use caution and understand the local COVID-19 requirements for their destination.  

Q: What do we do about Scouts’ fundraising activities?

A: Fundraising activities may be held if those activities are conducted within the guidelines outlined above.  Before units decide to do in-person fundraisers, please be mindful that there may be traditional locations that have changed their usual fundraising policies due to COVID-19.  Units may find these guidelines for our Camp Card Sale helpful in planning unit fundraisers.  

Q: What is the BSA’s policy on social distancing in a tenting environment when camping?

A: Camping should only take place following the guidelines outlined above.  There is no formal national policy on social distancing in tents, just as there is no prohibition on tenting alone if logistics can accommodate that request.  As always, all BSA youth protection policies must be followed.

Note:  This article was updated on March 18, 2021.

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