COVID-19 Risk Management Protocols

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Call: 802.258.3366

INTRODUCTION

SIT has implemented the following health and safety protocols with the goal of reducing COVID-19 infection and the spread of the virus from one location to another. To achieve this goal, SIT adheres to host country entry regulations, as well as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommendations for mitigating the spread of COVID-19.

Because SIT operates in a global context, the COVID-19 protocols listed below will serve as a minimum requirement across all SIT programs. For example, if a host country does not have an isolation requirement, our programs will adhere to the SIT isolation protocols. Conversely, if the host country COVID protocols are stricter than SIT’s, SIT will defer to host country protocols.

Regarding SIT Custom Programs: COVID-19 protocols for some Custom Programs may be slightly different or not applicable compared to what is listed below, depending on the requirements of partner schools and the program’s specific structure. Unless otherwise stated in the program-specific risk management plan, all protocols* below will apply to “participants” of Custom Programs. Participants are defined as any individual who attends a Custom Program or similar activity (such as a site visit) supported or run by SIT. They include students, faculty, staff, and program leaders from partner institutions. Throughout these protocols, the term “student” will also refer to Custom Program participants. 

*Please note, a) the Independent Travel Policy does not apply to faculty/staff leaders of SIT Custom Programs, and b) payment of fees mentioned below may differ based upon the contract established with the partner institution.

Responding to the dynamic risk horizon caused by COVID-19, and out of an abundance of caution, SIT continuously evaluates and amends many program elements to mitigate risk. These include:

1. Homestays

Homestays have always been an integral part the SIT experience. However, due to the elevated health risk posed by COVID-19, they were suspended in most SIT locations during the pandemic. As global vaccination rates continue to increase, we have begun to reintroduce homestays with these conditions:

  • Key COVID-19 indicators are not at elevated levels (e.g. case numbers, vaccination rate, hospitalizations, and hospital capacity)
  • In most cases, students in homestays are placed in single rooms. However, in locations where accommodation resources are more limited and may not allow for single rooms, students might be placed in a shared room with the standard homestay safety protocols in place. 
  • Students participating in homestays are up to date with their COVID-19 vaccine.
  • To the extent possible, students will only be placed in homestays where all eligible family members, as determined by host country law, are fully vaccinated (as defined by their local health authority).

In certain countries where SIT operates, there may be legal limitations to our ability to verify the vaccination status of host family members. Furthermore, homestay families with vaccinated adults may have children who are not eligible yet for vaccination.) If we are not able to formally verify vaccination status, or if there are family members who are eligible for the vaccine but remain unvaccinated, students will be informed prior to their arrival. To the extent possible, students will be given the option of alternative accommodation if they are uncomfortable with the arrangement.

In countries where vaccines are not yet readily available but COVID-19 risk is low (based on key COVID-19 indicators being tracked), homestays with unvaccinated family members may be permitted.

To the extent possible, in places where the above conditions cannot be met or in locations where risk has increased after students have entered the homestay and the homestay is considered unsafe, SIT will utilize alternative accommodation such as hotels, guesthouses, apartments or other viable and safe options available in the program country.

2. International Excursions

SIT defines an “international excursion” as a student educational trip planned and led by SIT outside of the program host country.

Due to the elevated health risk posed by COVID-19, international excursions were suspended in most SIT locations during the pandemic. However, as vaccination rates continue to increase globally, more countries are opening borders and easing entry requirements for international travelers.

SIT has resumed international excursions under the following conditions:

  • Key COVID-19 indicators in the excursion country are not at elevated levels (e.g. case numbers, vaccination rate, hospitalizations, and hospital capacity). 
  • There are no prohibitive entry requirements for the excursion country (e.g. borders are open, testing is readily available, and there is not a long quarantine requirement).  
  • There are no prohibitive movement restrictions within the excursion country (e.g. limited mobility allowed that would prevent program activities from occurring).
  • Following the excursion, students will be required to obtain a *viral test 3-5 days after returning to the program’s host country per CDC recommendations regarding international travel. This test will not be required if students were tested within a day of departure from the international excursion country.  SIT will arrange and pay for this test.

*There are two types of viral tests: rapid tests and laboratory tests. COVID-19 testing is one of many risk-reduction measures, along with vaccination, masking, and physical distancing, that protect you and others by reducing the chances of spreading COVID-19.

Rapid Point-of-Care tests are performed or interpreted by someone other than the individual being tested. They can be performed in minutes and can include antigen tests, some NAATs, and other tests.

Rapid Self-tests are performed by the individual being tested, and can be taken at home or anywhere. They are easy to use and produce rapid results.

Laboratory tests are performed in a medical facility and samples obtained from the individual being tested are analyzed by a medical professional. These tests can take days to complete and include RT-PCR and other types of NAATs.

In places where the above conditions cannot be met, SIT will replace the international excursion with in-country excursions that have similar learning outcomes.

3. Independent Travel

Students on SIT programs can travel independently inside of their host country except in areas identified as higher risk and specifically prohibited by the program. SIT defines “independent travel” as travel within the host country that: a) occurs during the program’s defined enrollment period; b) is independently organized by a student; c) is unrelated to program activities; d) does not interfere with scheduled program activities; and e) involves an overnight stay.

Students participating in Europe-based programs are also allowed to travel independently to countries within the Schengen zone, as well as the U.K. and Ireland. (*Please note, the Iceland program does not allow independent travel outside of Iceland.)

All students, regardless of where their program is based, must formally request approval from their academic or program director prior to making any travel plans. Starting in fall 2022, all independent travel requests will be considered under the following conditions, as consistent with the Independent Travel Policy

  • Requests for independent travel follow the steps detailed in the Independent Travel Policy so that a proper review of the request can occur with the academic or program director and the office of Student Health, Safety & Well-being.
  • Key COVID-19 metrics being monitored by SIT are favorable in the location to which the student is requesting travel.
  • There are no movement restrictions imposed by the host country government that would impede travel.

In addition, if travel to another Schengen zone country or the U.K. or Ireland is approved, students will be required to obtain a viral test 3-5 days after returning to the program host country (unless students have been tested within a day of departure from the country to which they traveled.) Students must arrange and pay for the test.

Students participating in Europe-based programs should consult the Independent Travel Request Form provided to them onsite for more detailed restrictions on travel outside of their host country that may apply to their specific program.

SIT reserves the right to rescind approval for independent travel requests for a variety of reasons, including but not limited to: key COVID metrics in the location to be visited are worsening; the location is deemed unsafe; the student is in poor academic standing; etc. If a student receives approval for independent travel and that approval is rescinded for any reason, SIT is not responsible for any forfeited travel costs (e.g. cancelled flights, lodging, etc.).

4. Vaccinations

As part of our commitment to ensuring the health, safety and well-being of students, staff, and global host communities, SIT requires students to be up to date with their COVID-19 vaccine prior to the start of their program.  In accordance with the CDC, SIT considers students to be up to date once they have received:

a) The primary series of a COVID-19 vaccine (e.g. both doses of a two-dose vaccine and one dose of a single-dose vaccine);

AND

b) For students studying abroad in spring 2023 and beyond, the updated COVID-19 mRNA (bivalent) booster dose*  recommended by the CDC. This bivalent booster can help restore protection that has decreased since previous vaccination and provide broader protection against newer variants. It targets the most recent Omicron subvariants, BA.4 and BA.5, that are more contagious and more resistant than earlier strains of Omicron. Additional information can be found on the CDC’s FAQ page.

In short, even if a student received the original monovalent booster, they still need to receive this updated bivalent booster to be in line with SIT requirements.

*Any student who resides in a country without access to the bivalent booster will only be required to have the primary series of the vaccine along with any booster dose that is available to them (such as a monovalent booster).

c) In certain cases, any COVID-19 booster dose(s) required by the host country. (SIT adheres to CDC guidelines and recommendations for boosters as a minimum standard. In some locations, the host country government might require a different schedule of booster doses. If those requirements are more frequent or stricter than the CDC recommendations, SIT will comply with host country requirements.)

SIT understands that there are legitimate reasons why students may not be up to date with their COVID vaccine. In turn, we provide the opportunity to petition for an exemption to our vaccination requirement on the grounds of medical reasons, sincerely held religious beliefs, or unavailability of the vaccine/booster doses.

Petitions will be reviewed by an SIT Risk Committee comprised of the director of security, a representative from Student Health, Safety, and Well-being, the program lead, and legal counsel as needed. The Risk Committee will evaluate the petition and determine if the exemption presents undue hardship and/or poses unique risks to the health and safety of the requesting student or to other members of the program.

If the student’s petition is denied and they wish to study abroad with SIT, they will need to be fully vaccinated, including boosters, no later than two weeks prior to their departure date. Alternatively, the student may transfer to a future semester or rescind their program application.

If the student’s petition is approved, they will be subject to host country government requirements as well as SIT’s COVID-19 Risk Management Protocols. The student will also be personally responsible for any costs associated with being unvaccinated (e.g. testing, alternative housing requirements, quarantine, etc.). Students whose petitions are approved will have reasonable access to the program. However, there may be specific parts of the program and/or travel experience that are impacted for any unvaccinated student.

Recognizing that COVID-19 vaccines may not be available in some locations, SIT strongly encourages—but is not requiring at this time—all program faculty and staff to be fully vaccinated (as defined by their local health authority) against COVID-19.

5. Masks

The CDC recommends wearing a well-fitted mask to help prevent severe illness and reduce the potential for strain on healthcare systems. SIT requires all participants, regardless of vaccination status, to wear a mask anywhere required by host country laws or in locations where SIT staff and partners on the ground determine it is necessary to mask based on conditions at the time.

SIT recognizes that COVID-19 prevalence varies from one location to another and conditions, while improved in many places, are still very fluid. SIT will outline the masking protocols for each location in the location-specific risk management plans developed prior to each term and will adjust protocols at any point if local government regulations change or conditions warrant it.

6. Testing & Quarantine

The following testing protocols are based on CDC recommendations.

Before Departure to Host Country

SIT strongly recommends that all students obtain a viral test as close to the time of departure as possible, but no more than three days prior to travel. Students who test positive should begin isolation (see Isolation section below) and should not travel for at least five full days since the onset of symptoms or since testing positive if asymptomatic. After testing positive, students can travel if:

  • They have completed the isolation period of five full days
  • Remain symptom free OR if originally symptomatic, their symptoms are improving
  • Have not had a fever for at least 24 hours
  • Wear a mask in all public settings, especially on any public transportation, until 10 full days since the onset of symptoms or since testing positive if asymptomatic.

During Travel to Host Country

In accordance with CDC recommendations for individuals during travel, students should properly wear a well-fitting mask or respirator while on public transportation (such as airplanes, trains, buses, ferries) and in transportation hubs (such as airports, stations, and seaports), especially in locations that are crowded or poorly ventilated (e.g. airport jetways).

Upon Arrival to Host Country

Students who are NOT up to date with their COVID-19 vaccine must quarantine after arrival for five full days with receipt of a negative test taken between day 3-5 of quarantine OR must quarantine for 10 days if no test is administered. The day of arrival is considered day 0. Quarantine requires remaining in a specific room separate from other non-exposed people.

Students who are up to date with their vaccine do not need to quarantine upon arrival (unless required by the host country or when SIT deems it necessary.

ALL students must obtain a viral test 3-5 days after arrival. SIT will arrange and pay for this test.

Please note that certain host countries may have additional testing requirements that are not detailed here, such as testing immediately upon arrival or pre-departure testing for all travelers regardless of vaccination status. In these instances, students are expected to pay for the testing required by host countries.

7. Transportation

Traveling on public transportation, including planes, increases the risk of getting and spreading COVID-19 as it puts travelers in close contact with each other, often for prolonged periods of time, and exposes them to frequently touched surfaces. While the CDC no longer requires wearing masks on public transport, SIT strongly recommends that students mask while traveling to their host country and while on any form of public transport in their host country, regardless of local masking protocols. This will help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 and help protect the local communities in which students are immersed abroad.

Some SIT programs may organize private transport, such as vans or buses, for student groups to travel between program activities. In turn, SIT staff and partners on the ground will determine if it is necessary for students to mask based on local conditions at the time.

8. Exposure

Regardless of vaccination status or previous infection, students who have a known exposure to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 must wear a well-fitting mask around others for 10 days from the “date of last close contact” (the date of last close contact is considered day 0) and should get tested at least 5 days after the date of last close contact. In turn, if students test positive or develop COVID-19 symptoms, they should follow the recommendations in the Isolation section below.

9. Positive Test or Symptomatic

If a person tests positive and/or is experiencing symptoms consistent with COVID-19, regardless of their vaccination status, SIT follows these CDC recommendations:

a. Isolate. Isolation is used to separate people infected with COVID-19 from those who are not infected. Isolation means staying home in a specific room and separating from other people for at least five full days (day 0 is the first day of symptoms or the date of the positive test for individuals without symptoms). Those in isolation should:

  • Stay in a separate room from other household members, and use a separate bathroom, if possible.
  • Take steps to improve ventilation at home, if possible.
  • Do not share personal household items, like cups, towels, and utensils.
  • Take care of themselves (rest, stay hydrated, etc.), and monitor their symptoms. If students have an emergency warning sign, they should seek emergency medical care immediately.
  • Remain in contact with their health care provider.
  • Wear a well-fitting mask when around other people for an additional 5 days after ending isolation.
  • Do not travel on public or private transportation for at least five full days since the onset of symptoms or since testing positive if asymptomatic. Day 0 is the date of the positive test result or the date symptoms first appeared.
  • After testing positive, students can travel if:
    • They have completed the isolation period of five full days
    • Remain symptom free OR if originally symptomatic, their symptoms are improving
    • Have not had a fever for at least 24hrs
    • Wear a mask in all public settings, especially on any public transportation, until 10 full days since the onset of symptoms or since testing positive if asymptomatic

Should onsite staff capacity, itinerary, and/or logistical issues cause unique challenges for the student and program in relation to the 5-day do-not-travel policy, SIT student affairs and medical staff will assess the feasibility of the student traveling earlier.

b. Contact Trace. An infected person can spread COVID-19 starting 48 hours before they develop any symptoms or tests positive. Contact tracing helps protect you and your local community by letting one’s close contacts know they may have been exposed to COVID. The CDC defines close contact as someone who was within 6 feet of an infected person for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period starting from two days before illness onset (or, if asymptomatic, two days prior to test specimen collection) until the time the patient is isolated.

c. Ending Isolation. People who had COVID-19 and were symptomatic may be around others after: a) five full days of isolation (day 0 is the first day symptoms appeared), and b) 24 hours with no fever (without using fever-reducing medications), and c) other symptoms of COVID-19 are improving. These individuals should continue to mask around others at home and in public for an additional five days after ending isolation (day 6 through day 10).

People who had COVID-19 but were non-symptomatic—and continue to have no symptoms—may be around others after five full days of isolation (day 0 is the date the test was conducted). However, these individuals should continue to mask around others at home and in public for an additional five days after ending isolation (day 6 through day 10).

BEFORE DEPARTING THE PROGRAM

While there is no longer a requirement for travelers to present a negative COVID-19 test or documentation of recovery in order to enter the U.S., we encourage students who are returning to other countries to confirm the testing requirements for that country. In the event that a student tests positive for COVID at the end of their program and is not able to return home as planned, SIT will assist the student in finding room and board and will extend iSOS insurance coverage during the student’s isolation period. The iSOS insurance policy offers specific coverage that can assist students with some of the housing, meal, and airfare costs associated with quarantine. Please refer to SIT’s student insurance webpage for more details.