COVID-19 Risk Management Protocols for Graduate Programs

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 and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) regulations. If host-country entry regulations are more relaxed than CDC regulations, SIT defers to CDC regulations.

PROGRAM UPDATES

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

Homestays

Homestays have always been an integral part of the SIT experience. However, due to the elevated health risk posed by COVID-19, they were suspended in most SIT locations during the pandemic. We are optimistic that homestays will resume in more areas as vaccination rates continue to increase globally. Homestays are permitted with the following conditions:

  • Key COVID-19 indicators are not at elevated levels (e.g. case numbers, vaccination rate, hospitalizations, and hospital capacity)
  • Students participating in homestays are fully vaccinated.
  • To the extent possible, students will only be placed in homestays where all eligible family members, as defined by host-country law, are fully vaccinated.  Please note that homestay families may have children that are not yet eligible for vaccination.

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.

Students will be informed about the vaccination status of their homestay family prior to placement.  In certain countries where SIT operates, there may be legal limitations to our ability to verify vaccination status. If there are any unvaccinated family members who are eligible for the vaccine, or we are not able to formally verify vaccination status, to the extent possible, students will be given the option of alternative accommodation if they are uncomfortable with the arrangement.

  • Homestay families will provide students with single rooms.

To the extent possible, in places where these 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.

International Excursions

SIT defines “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 will resume international excursion opportunities 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 location (e.g. borders are open, testing is readily available, and there is not a long quarantine requirement).  
  • There are no prohibitive movement restrictions in place within the host country (e.g. limited mobility allowed that would prevent program activities from occurring).
  • Following the excursion, students will be required to obtain a viral PCR test 3 – 5 days after returning to the program host country (unless students have been tested within a day of departure from the excursion country.)  SIT will arrange and pay for this test.

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

Independent Travel

Independent travel is defined as travel that is not part of an SIT program or activity and/or is undertaken by a student on their own. Independent travel also includes all student travel during free time, and during research and practicum phases. SIT is not responsible or liable for student welfare during independent travel. In order to engage in independent travel during a global master’s program, students must consult with their program chair or program manager in advance, inform them of their travel plans and itinerary, and sign an Assumption of Risk and Release of Liability Form in favor of SIT in the form requested by SIT before travel commences.

Vaccinations

As part of our commitment to ensuring the health, safety and wellbeing of students, staff, and global host communities, SIT requires students to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 prior to the start of their program. According to the Centers for Disease Control, people are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their second dose in a 2-dose series (e.g. Moderna or Pfizer) and two weeks after a single-dose vaccine (e.g. Johnson & Johnson).

Given the increase of COVID variants, resulting changes to entry requirements from countries around the world, and varying definitions of how countries define “fully vaccinated,” SIT is strongly recommending that all students receive a COVID-19 booster shot prior to the start of the semester. Data from clinical trials has shown that a booster shot can increase the immune response and help prevent COVID-19 with symptoms. Additional information about booster shots can be found on the Center for Disease Control’s website.

SIT understands that there are legitimate reasons why students may not be vaccinated against COVID-19. We provide 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.

Recognizing that COVID-19 vaccines may not be available in many global locations, SIT strongly encourages—but is not requiring at this time—all program faculty and staff to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Masks

The CDC recommends universal indoor masking for all teachers, staff, students, and visitors to schools, regardless of vaccination status. Consistent with this recommendation, and to provide maximum protection from COVID variants and prevent possible spread to others, SIT requires that all participants wear a mask in public indoor settings and anywhere else required by local laws, regulations, and guidance.

Tests & Quarantine

The following testing protocols are based on CDC guidelines.

Before Departure to Host Country

  • Unvaccinated students must take a viral PCR test 1-3 days prior to departure, or in some cases prior to arrival (based on the specific requirements of the host country). Students who test negative should present the test result to airport officials. Students who test positive may not travel.
  • Vaccinated students do not need to obtain a viral PCR test prior to departure (unless required by the host country or when SIT deems it necessary).

Upon Arrival to Host Country

  • Unvaccinated students must quarantine after arrival for 7 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. Quarantine requires remaining in a specific room separate from other non-exposed people.
  • Vaccinated students do not need to quarantine upon arrival (unless required by the host country or when SIT deems it necessary).
  • Both unvaccinated & vaccinated students must obtain a viral PCR 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.

Transportation

SIT supports CDC recommendations to mitigate COVID-19 risk in transportation settings, to include: a) wear masks, maintain physical distance, avoid touching surfaces, and practice good hand hygiene; b) refrain from eating or drinking; c) with regards to the driver, maintain physical distance and request ventilation improvements as needed.

COVID RESPONSE PROTOCOL

Positive Test or Symptomatic

If a person tests positive and/or is experiencing symptoms consistent with COVID-19, SIT follows these CDC guidelines:

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 away from other people) and separating from other people. Those in isolation should monitor their symptoms, stay in touch with their health care provider, not leave home or visit public areas, and take care of themselves (e.g. rest and stay hydrated).

b. Contact Trace. An infected person can spread COVID-19 starting 48 hours before the person has any symptoms or tests positive. By letting one’s close contacts know they may have been exposed to COVID, they are helping to protect everyone. 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 2 days before illness onset (or, for asymptomatic patients, 2 days prior to test specimen collection) until the time the patient is isolated.

c. Ending Isolation. People who are symptomatic or test positive may be around others after: a) 10 days since symptoms first appeared, and b) 24 hours with no fever (without using fever-reducing medications), and c) other symptoms of COVID-19 are improving. People who are non-symptomatic and test positive—and continue to have no symptoms—can be around others after 10 days have passed since the positive test. Most people do not require testing to decide when they can be around others. However, if your healthcare provider recommends testing, they will let you know when you can resume being around others based on your test results.

Exposure

a. Vaccinated students who have a known exposure to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 must be tested 3-5 days after exposure and continue to wear a mask in public indoor settings.

b. Unvaccinated students who have a known exposure to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 must be tested immediately and must quarantine (stay home, separate themselves from others, monitor their health, and follow directions from the local health department). Quarantine may stop after day 10 without testing OR after day 7 when receiving a negative test result (the test must occur on day 5 of quarantine or later).

BEFORE TRAVEL BACK TO THE UNITED STATES

Per U.S. Government Policy, in order to enter the U.S. both unvaccinated and vaccinated travelers must present a negative viral COVID-19 test conducted no more than 1 day prior to departure (the first leg of one’s flight). Two types of viral tests can be used: nucleic acid amplification tests (NAATs) and antigen tests. The “1 day” timeframe is defined by days instead of hours to provide more flexibility to the traveler. For any student who is not returning to the U.S., SIT recommends following these same testing guidelines. Additional information about this testing requirement can be found on the Centers for Disease Control website.

If a student tests positive during the return testing process, SIT will assist the student in finding room and board and will extend iSOS insurance coverage during the isolation period. However, students will be responsible for the cost of room and board and other expenses associated with an extended stay (for example airline ticket change fees, local transportation, etc.) beyond the program’s official end date.