SIT Updated Risk and Safety Message for Undergraduate Students

COVID-19 continues to significantly alter the risk landscape all over the world.

From the beginning of the pandemic through the current semester, SIT has adapted its approach to monitoring and managing risk to meet the dynamic challenges as they emerge. This has meant looking beyond traditional risk indicators and factoring new developments like vaccines and updated guidance from the scientific and health community into our risk mitigation protocols.

In summer 2021, the U.S. Department of State (DOS) made significant changes to its Travel Advisory system by updating the methodology used for determining COVID-19 related risks. As a result of this new methodology, a large percentage of the world’s countries have registered a Level 4 (Do Not Travel). However, the DOS Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) makes clear that these heightened Travel Advisories are not designed to single out new risks in specific countries and should not be viewed “as a singular tripwire” to evacuate staff or cut programs the moment a Travel Advisory level is increased. Rather, the new methodology and advisories are best utilized when considered alongside other indicators and factors.

In line with OSAC advice, SIT believes the best approach to assessing and managing risk in the current environment is a holistic one. Consequently, SIT will not use DOS Level 4 as a sole tripwire for deciding whether to run or continue to run a program. Instead, SIT will continue to be informed by a deep analysis of all relevant data and information and will utilize that overall analysis to make decisions. SIT’s approach is described in the following paragraphs.

Risk Assessment and Management Methodology

Risk Assessment

Daily, SIT monitors ongoing and evolving risks in each country including crime, terrorism, political instability and civil unrest, natural disasters, and public health matters. We rely on a variety of tools and resources for identifying and assessing actual or potential risk to students and staff. They include: International SOS (medical and travel risk ratings); the U.S. Department of State (Travel Advisories); the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Travel Health Notices); the Overseas Security Advisory Council (Country Crime and Safety Reports); U.S. Embassies (in countries of operation); and the World Health Organization (WHO).

During periods of heightened health risks such as COVID-19, SIT maintains a tracker (which is posted on the SIT website in the Advisor Portal) where specific indicators related to the virus are tracked and updated weekly. Key indicators include: 1. number of new daily cases; 2. number of new cases per 100,000 people; 3. mortality rate; 4. testing positivity rate; 5. WHO transmission classification; 6. International SOS risk ratings for travel, medical, and COVID-19 impact; 7. DOS Travel Advisory level; 8. CDC Health Advisory Level; and 9. vaccination rates. SIT also closely monitors actions taken by the governments in the countries where our programs operate, such as movement restrictions or quarantine requirements that would potentially impact programs.

Finally, SIT leverages the expertise and knowledge of our experienced host country faculty and staff, who provide us with updates about issues of concern and potential impact to our students and centers. Our local faculty and staff have extensive networks that include local authorities, U.S. embassy services, and informal sources—all of which help to inform our decisions about programs.

This holistic and comprehensive information is used to inform a detailed country Risk Assessment, as well as our program-specific contingency plans, conducted for every location that SIT is considering for programs. Risk Assessments consider health risks, such as COVID-19, as well as a multitude of risks unrelated to health. The Risk Assessment for any individual SIT program is available upon request.

Risk Assessment Committee

SIT maintains a Risk Assessment Committee comprised of senior-level staff and chaired by the director of security. The committee uses the risk assessments to make decisions about which programs can run safely.

Risk Assessments for approved programs are updated on a regular basis to ensure that significant changes to the risk landscape are factored into planning and implementation. We have also institutionalized an approach wherein the Risk Assessment Committee and faculty meet prior to the start of the program to finalize the health and safety protocols, in addition to maintaining regular check-ins throughout the semester and any time a risk variable increases, so that we can ensure the program is well supported.

If SIT determines that a program cannot run (due to COVID-19 or any other reason), affected students and their home institutions will be notified as soon as possible to allow students to make alternative arrangements. Such announcements are generally made approximately one to three months before the start of a program. Where possible, and with the approval of students’ home institutions, affected students will be given the opportunity to transfer their enrollment to another active SIT program that aligns with their academic interests.

Risk Management Plans

When it is determined that it is safe for a program to run, we utilize our Risk Assessment to develop a detailed Risk Management Plan. These plans include standard SIT protocols as well as customized risk mitigation measures based on the specific risks identified in the assessment process. The Risk Management Plan for any individual SIT program is available upon request.

Vaccines

Vaccination Requirement

A growing body of evidence suggests that those who are fully vaccinated are less likely to be infected and thus potentially less likely to spread the virus that causes COVID-19. In addition, it is expected that countries increasingly will require vaccine verification as a requirement for entry. 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 fully vaccinated against COVID-19 prior to the start of their program

We have adopted this policy to safeguard the health of our students, our faculty and staff and their families, partners, homestay families, and the community at large from COVID-19. We also anticipate that this approach will better allow us to deliver the immersive academic and cultural experience students expect from SIT.

Vaccination Verification

Students will verify their vaccination status by uploading a scanned copy of their official vaccination card into their post-acceptance SIT application portal.

Petitioning the Vaccination Requirement

SIT understands that there are legitimate reasons for not being vaccinated against COVID-19. We provide students the opportunity to petition for an exemption to our vaccination requirement on the grounds of medical reasons, sincerely held religious beliefs, or vaccine unavailability. Petitions will be reviewed by SIT’s Risk Assessment Committee as long as they do not present undue hardship and/or pose a direct threat to the health and safety of the requesting student or to other members of our programs. Students will receive a final decision on their petition no later than two weeks after the official submission date. Approval of any petition is contingent upon vaccinations not being mandated by host country governments as a requirement for entry.