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COVID-19 Risk Management Protocols for Graduate Programs
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.
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:
Due to the elevated health risk posed by COVID-19, homestays were suspended in most SIT locations during the pandemic. As global vaccination rates continue to increase, some graduate programs 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 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 (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.
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.
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 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 test 3 – 5 days after returning to the program 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 these conditions cannot be met, SIT will replace the international excursion with in-country excursions that have similar learning outcomes.
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 any student travel during free time, and during research and practicum phases. Students are responsible for their own welfare and well-being during independent travel. When engaging in independent travel during a global master’s program, students must inform their degree chair and onsite staff of their plans and itinerary in advance of travel.
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);
b) For students starting SIT graduate programs in summer 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 vaccinated against COVID-19. 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 vaccine unavailability.
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 with SIT, they will need to be fully vaccinated, including boosters, no later than two weeks prior to the start of their program. Alternatively, the student may transfer to a future term or withdraw their 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 many global 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 the person has 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).
RETURNING TO THE U.S. AND OTHER COUNTRIES
While there is no longer a requirement for travelers to present a negative COVID-19 test or documentation of recovery 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.