Health and Safety Information for Study Abroad During Covid-19
The Organization for Tropical Studies constantly monitors guidance from multiple global organizations (WHO, CDC, United Nations Security Council, etc.) and local expert institutions (NICD and Department of Health in South Africa, Ministry of Health in Costa Rica) to help us make informed decisions about the safety and feasibility of upcoming study abroad and field-based training offerings.
Study abroad frequently asked questions (FAQs)
Are there any changes to Spring 2022 OTS field programs as a result of the newly discovered Covid variant (Omicron)?
OTS is aware of and is monitoring the new coronavirus variant of concern, first identified in South Africa and recently designated Omicron. Since this is a newly identified variant, more research is needed to best identify policies and procedures moving forward. At this time, we are still planning on running the undergraduate semester program, African Ecology & Conservation, early in 2022. As always, we will continue to engage with and follow the recommendations of public health professionals and organizations, both on the ground in South Africa and in the United States. Please contact us if you have additional questions or concerns.
Can I apply for OTS study abroad programs during Covid-19 Pandemic?
Yes! OTS is accepting applications for selected study abroad programs and field research opportunities in South Africa and Costa Rica. Our education and research teams are working diligently with our local and international partner institutions to ensure that these programs meet the appropriate health and safety of standards for education and training activities during the Covid-19 pandemic.
How will OTS make the decision about the viability of programming during Covid-19?
OTS is working closely with our partners in Costa Rica and South Africa to evaluate the safety and viability of upcoming programs and offerings during the Covid-19 Pandemic. Adjustments to program travel itineraries will be implemented to reduce the risks associated with international and in-country travel during this time (see section on programmatic changes for more information). Both Costa Rica and South Africa have implemented strong measures to mitigate the spread of the virus, and both countries have started to open up to travel and tourism with new risk mitigations measures in place. The following information is being considered by the OTS Education Team to determine whether OTS study abroad offering will proceed as planned:
- U.S. department of State Travel Advisories
- CDC Travel Guidance
- Covid-19 cases new infection rate
- Availability of Covid-19 tests in U.S. and host countries
- Destination country hospital/medical system capacity
- Destination country travel restrictions and port of arrival requirements
- Destination country active consular services in the United States and timeline for obtaining visas or other required documentation (Visa applications process and turnaround times)
- Embassy and consular services open in destination country (specific to nationality of program applicants)
- Implementation status of OTS’ in-country crisis management response plan
- Coverage of supplementary travel insurance
- U.S. National and state health requirements upon re-entry
When making decisions about specific programs, we consider local conditions and input from member institutions, our in-country partners and local infectious disease experts.
Have any programmatic changes been made to upcoming programs?
Course elements such as program start and end dates, in-country locations, and field-based activities may be adjusted for upcoming programs. Such adjustments will be made with based on a site-by-site evaluation of Covid-19 exposure risk. We are evaluating the situation at each of our existing field sites, providing alternatives for those which we deem to be of higher risk. We have also incorporated online modules into selected programming to mitigate the need for extended travel visas which will reduce the travel requirements in the U.S. and hence limit exposure/risk. At our field stations, we are reducing the number of students sleeping per room, building new accommodations and adding extra bathrooms to allow for these adjustments.
Be sure to visit your field program overview page on the OTS website for the latest information on program dates, locations and travel information. Applicants who have already applied for the program will be updated about any programmatic changes to their respective program.
What are the financial implications if the OTS field program I am applying for is cancelled due to Covid-19?
The constantly evolving Covid-19 situation requires continuous review by the OTS education team and home institution study abroad offices. For summer and semester programs, all deposits and payments made to OTS for tuition and/or program fees are fully refundable up until 30 days prior to the program start date. If the field portion of the program is cut short, OTS will consider partial refunds, depending on timing and other factors.
Cancellation and refund policy for programs cancelled during the program
In the event of a program being cancelled by OTS while in progress due to Covid-19 related concerns or restrictions, the following steps will be implemented:
- All study abroad offices at home institutions and families or guardians of participants will be notified immediately.
- A repatriation process will be initiated in conjunction with your home institution study abroad office. Be sure to check your international travel and health insurance policy about the financial implications for repatriation travel costs, or speak to your study abroad office. We strongly advise booking flexible airline tickets.
- If OTS determines that a program cannot be completed in-country, then a remote-learning alternative will be implemented, as long as the remaining course content / curriculum allows for such adjustments. Depending on how far the program has progressed upon cancellation, teaching will proceed online, and outstanding modules or assignments will be completed remotely under the supervision of OTS faculty (provisions have been made in the academic material to enable successful online completion of content and assignments).
- If OTS is unable to complete the program online, a pro-rata tuition refund will be calculated (based on the number of outstanding program days). OTS can only refund payments including the program deposit, tuition, program fees, and room & board. OTS cannot offer refunds for any personal costs incurred associated with the program, including but not limited to flights, other transportation, visas, immunizations, etc.
What are the financial implications if I withdraw from the OTS program I have registered for and the program has not been cancelled?
Withdrawal prior to the program start date (30 or more days before)
If a student withdraws more than 30 days prior to the program start date, the deposit (normally non-refundable), along with any payments made to OTS will be fully refunded. A student also can apply the funds to the same program in the future.
What happens if the program is cancelled by OTS less than 30 days prior to the start date?
OTS will issue a full refund, including deposit, or a student may apply the amount to a future OTS program.
What happens if I choose to withdraw or my home institution requires it less than 30 days before the program’s start date?
OTS will issue a 50% refund, not including the deposit. If the withdrawal occurs after the start of the program, OTS will not issue a refund.
What will happen to my scholarships if I do not participate in the OTS program I have registered for?
The OTS Scholarship appears as a credit on your account. This credit will be deleted you are not participating in the program. It may be possible to apply for the same program in the future and get an award at that time.
Should I purchase medical travel insurance for Covid-19?
All students are required to have international health insurance if they are attending an OTS Field Program. Before purchasing medical travel insurance, be sure to check the policy to see if it includes a benefit that covers medical expenses and the possible costs of extended stay if you become ill with Covid-19 and other illnesses and injuries while traveling outside your home country.
OTS provides emergency and evacuation insurance for students accepted for international field programs, however, this insurance does not cover Security Evacuation Expense Benefits for common or endemic or epidemic diseases or global pandemic disease as defined by the World Health Organization.
When should I book my flights?
OTS recommends booking refundable and adjustable flights, in case you are required to come home sooner than originally planned. We also strongly recommend purchasing flight insurance though your airline which will cover a situation where international travel is cancelled and/or the program you are registering for is cancelled, e.g., Cancel for Any Reason (CFAR) insurance plans. When booking their trips, students should compare insurance details and ensure that their needs are covered in the event of unexpected changes.
Will I need to have a Covid-19 test before coming on the program?
Yes, you must provide proof of a negative test prior to your departing flight time. You will also be required to take another a test five days after arrival in the host country, if you show any symptoms, or have been exposed to someone confirmed to have Covid-19, and again before you return home.
OTS accepts approved PCR Covid-19 test results as per the guidance of the host countries. Anti-body tests will not be accepted
Will there be a quarantine period on arrival in the destination country?
OTS will take a conservative approach to quarantine periods and comply with the national regulations and best available evidence-based quarantine recommendations from national and international bodies, such as the CDC, WHO, NICD and national government health departments at the time of the course. All multi-site field programs will start at OTS field stations, where we will limit interactions with other participants, faculty, and guests, and monitor the health status of students in the group. If necessary, participants can be individually quarantined at OTS field stations until their Covid-19 status is verified via a PCR test. The following protocols may be applied during you time with OTS in the host country:
- Mandatory Covid-19 test five days after arrival on the program (OTS will arrange this with local health professional from private healthcare institutions)
- Daily symptoms screening and temperature checks
- Mandatory use of approved face masks (allocated at the start of the program)
- Capacity limits on accommodations, communal spaces, and vehicles at the field station(s)
- Social distancing measures in all group activities
- Mandatory use of sanitizing stations before group interactions and when entering OTS buildings
- Pre-plated meals (no buffets)
How often will program participants be tested for Covid-19?
OTS will follow the advice from the relevant authorities about the necessity of Covid-19 screening tests. Five days after arrival, then again if any student or staff show symptoms or have extended contact with someone confirmed to have virus, and then again before returning home at the end of the program.
Who covers the cost of Covid-19 tests?
Costs of tests prior to departure for the course are the responsibility of the student. OTS will cover the cost of the mandatory follow up test if these tests are not required by the destination country’s arrival policy for international visitors during Covid-19 pandemic. Each student will be required to have health insurance that covers the cost of the expected treatment costs and extended stay if the student tests positive for Covid-19.
What happens if a participant is tested positive with Covid-19 during the program?
OTS will follow the best medical advice available if a student contracts Covid-19 during an OTS program. As with any medical emergency, OTS has developed response protocols for a crisis-management and emergency response protocols associated with study abroad programming. These protocols are updated regularly based on the recommendations from health care professionals. In short:
- The home-institution and family of the participant will be notified immediately.
- The student will be taken to a medical doctor and all prescribed medicines obtained timeously.
- The student will follow advise of a medical doctor or local public health guidelines if showing no or little symptoms.
- The student will be isolated from the rest of the group for a period of time recommended by a medical doctor or local public health guidelines.
- The student will be transported to a nearby private hospital for treatment if it is recommended by a medical doctor.
As with other in-country medical expenses and medical emergencies, the cost associated with medical professional consultations and all treatment costs must be covered by the participant or their medical insurance plan.
What are the OTS in-country protocols to reduce Covid-19 risks?
OTS has developed response protocols for a range of risk scenarios associated with study abroad programming. These protocols are updated regularly based on the recommendations from public health officials.
In brief, these protocols include the following:
- Testing on arrival
- Capacity limits on transportation, shared accommodation, and communal spaces
- Daily symptom screening
- Sanitizing stations
- Use of approved Personal Protective Equipment (PPE).
In general, our programs are low-risk as we operate in remote parts of the countries and in conservation areas. OTS programs will avoid densely populated areas as much as possible. Please consult the updated program guide for updates on program itineraries and schedules.
What happens if there is a new wave of the virus while I am abroad? Will I be sent home?
We will follow the same procedures as we had done for the first wave of Covid-19 infections:
A. Continue strict Covid-19 prevention protocols and recommendations (use of face masks, regular washing and sanitizing of hands, daily symptom screening, social distancing and capacity limits).
B. Daily monitoring of the national and international Covid-19 status:
- Monitor the rate of local and national spread in the host country;
- Monitor the ease of travel and repatriation;
- Monitor the risk of infection at the current and upcoming sites.
C. The decision on whether students will be sent home is up to the individual student, parents or guardians, home institution, and OTS.
Should I bring my own PPE?
Please bring several masks along with you. OTS will also provide each program participant with and certified fabric mask on arrival and have additional on hand if needed.
What if I have already received a Covid-19 vaccination?
The program policies outlined above will be applied to all program participants, regardless of vaccination status.
Will there be information sessions, study abroad fairs, or seminars where I can get more information?
We will hold a Pre-Departure Orientation and online Q&A session prior to the start of our upcoming field programs to go over final logistics, policies and the itinerary. Details for the event will be shared with enrolled students.
Where can I get more information about the OTS Covid-19 response plans?
Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org if you need more information or require clarification.