May 23, 2021 (see below for modifications)

Historical Log of Modifications

May 23rd – Added HOW TO NAVIGATE YOUR PRE-TRIP RESPONSIBILITIES & GAIN PERMISSION TO TRAVEL TO THE BRITISH VIRGIN ISLANDS video COVID-19 Protocols Page.
May 23rd – Modified Student Pre-Trip Packet (avaiable in Participant Portal for download) to include current procedures for USVI and BVI arrivial.
May 18th – Updated the Vaccination Section to explain the modification that the BVI has made now that they recognize “Vaccination Status” as an important factor. Students who are 18 and older must be partially vaccinated (at minimum) before the program start date, or quarantine ashore in advance of the trip.
May 18th – Clarified that the BVI RT-PCR must be taken within 5 days of ARRIVAL in the BVI, rather than five days before departure to the BVI. This is especially important for those traveling from greater distances.
May 18th – Updated BVI Travel Ban Information.
May 18th – Recognized how an invidiual’s vaccination status will determine the appropriateness of activities with our Ten-Day Pre-Program Precuationary Period.
May 18th – Modified the 36hr COVID-19 test requirement to apply to “Unvaccinated” and “Partially Vaccinated” students only. “Fully Vaccinated” student no longer need to take this final test.
April 15th – Included vaccination recommendations.
April 8th – Included information on country specific travel bans & restrictions.
April 6th – Comprehensive update of all protocols.

What follows is a comprehensive overview of the risk mitigation protocols and procedures we plan to use for our British Virgin Islands programs this summer.

These plans adhere to the guidelines set by the British Virgin Islands Government, in addition to the technical protocols of the World Health Organization (WHO), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and those which we have been successfully using over the past year for our college-level Seamester programs. We developed our protocols around the following over-arching strategies:

  • Reduce the possibility of an infected person joining the program.
  • Combine on-program testing with a short “QuaranTeam” period.
  • Once clear, limit opportunities for a student or staff member to become infected for the duration of the program.

While these primary strategies will remain constant, the methods we employ to achieve them may change over time, with increased availability of vaccination, new scientific data, and directives/requirements from airlines or governmental agencies.

How to Navigate Your Pre-Trip Responsibilities & Gain Permission to Travel to the British Virgin Islands

All parents and students should watch this video at least 2 weeks prior to the program’s start date in the BVI. The purpose is to provide an overview of all of the resources that we have created to help you successfully navigate all of the Pre-trip COVID-related forms and logistics.

COVID-19 Related Travel Bans – May 15th, 2021

Anyone who believes that they fall into a category that would result in being refused exit from their home country or entry to the BVI is urged to research their individual situation by contacting the closest BVI Embassy or speak directly to a representative from the BVI Tourist Board (info@bvitourism.com or +1.284.852.6020)

BVI Travel Bans:
Currently, individuals who have been in, or transited through, any of the following countries within 14 full days of travel are not permitted entry to the British Virgin Islands.

  • Brazil
  • India

We have no definitive timeframe on when these travel bans will be reviewed. These bans apply to all individuals unless you are a belonger, resident, work permit holder, a person permitted to reside in the Territory, diplomat, or person employed by Government or Statutory agency.

Home Country Travel Bans & Transit Travel Restrictions:
All participants should be aware of and adhere to travel restrictions, regulations, or bans legislated by their home country’s government and/or by the countries within which they are transiting (USA/Antigua/St. Martin, etc.)

Current Protocols

Vaccination Recommendations & Requirements

Starting May 15th, 2021 the BVI now determines a traveler’s COVID-19 testing and quarantine requirements based on their “Vaccination Status”, age and, if deemed to be a minor child (12-17), the vaccination status of the parents/guardians with whom they are traveling. We also anticipate making changes to our pre-trip requirements based on vaccination status.

We have changed our recommendations and requirements as a result:

For reasons of health, risk mitigation, and program activity viability, ActionQuest recommends that all students 12 – 17 years of age seek to achieve “Fully Vaccinated” status prior to the start of their program. If achieving “Fully Vaccinated” status is not achievable, we recommend 12 – 17-year-olds join us as a “Partially Vaccinated” traveler. This will maintain our quarantine period to the expected four-day period, and perhaps less. Students who are 18 and older MUST either be “Partially Vaccinated” (at minimum) before the trip or complete their seven day BVI quarantine in advance of the program starting date.

Vaccination Status Definitions

  • Fully Vaccinated – An individual is “Fully Vaccinated” 14 days after they have received their final dose of vaccine.
  • Partially Vaccinated – An individual is “Partially Vaccinated” if they have received one or more doses of vaccine, but have not yet attained “Fully Vaccinated” Status.
  • Unvaccinated – An individual who has received no doses of vaccine.

BVI COVID-19 Testing and Quarantine Protocols

  • “Fully Vaccinated” travelers- Day-Zero COVID test. Quarantine ends once you receive your negative Day-Zero test results.
  • “Partially Vaccinated” travelers – Day-Zero COVID test. Four days quarantine (no change) followed by a COVID-19 test. Quarantine ends once you receive your negative Day-Four test results.
  • “Unvaccinated” travelers- Day-Zero COVID test. Seven days quarantine (increased from four) followed by a COVID-19 test. Quarantine ends once you receive your negative Day-Seven test results.

Pre-Trip Protocols

The goal of our pre-trip protocols is to reduce the possibility of an infected person joining the vessel

1. 10-day Pre-Program Precautionary Period

We require that all students take part in a 10-day pre-trip precautionary period before joining our program. This is a condition of participation. Over these ten days, at an absolute minimum, students must limit exposure* and follow the health requirements and guidelines set by their local, state, federal, or any other health authority or governmental organization. Living in different geographic locations, we recognize that guidelines may differ from student to student, yet we ask all students to err on the side of caution during this period. Individual decisions made during this period will determine the student’s eligibility to join the program. We define “limiting exposure” as avoiding unnecessary contact with those who are not operating within an environment of active COVID-19 risk mitigation that is in keeping with their vaccination status. Completing in-person school or attending another summer camp would likely be appropriate, but unnecessary vacation travel for unvaccinated individuals may not be. Each family needs to weigh the importance of one experience against another, so please don’t call our office asking us to approve a European vacation, Celebrity cruise, a trip to Disney, or any public gathering within this period.

2. Negative COVID-19 RT-PCR test – Five Day

Within five (5) days of arriving in the BVI, all students, irrespective of vaccination status, must take a COVID-19 Nasopharyngeal RT-PCR test and receive a negative result. Q-PCR or Rapid antigen tests will not be accepted. This is a requirement of the British Virgin Islands. The results need to be presentable on an official document (electronic or otherwise) that clearly shows the following:

  • Laboratory name and contact details
  • Student’s name
  • Test taken, stating RT-PCR
  • Date and time that the sample was taken
  • Negative result for COVID-19 or SARS-CoV-2

Please note – “Five days before arriving in the BVI” means no greater than five days from when your final flight or ferry arrives in the Territory. Our experience shows that a 24-48hr testing turnaround is easily achievable when working through a primary health care provider. Another good resource for US-based students is the following user-generated list of centers that have met this requirement for travelers – https://testfortravel.com/

3. Register to travel to the British Virgin Islands using the BVI Gateway App.

Once you have your negative COVID-19 RT-PCR test results all students must register to travel using the BVI Gateway App. Your application must be started MORE THAN 48 hours before traveling to the Territory (we suggest 3 or 4 days) and completed NO LESS THAN 24 hours prior to travel.

Learn more about BVI Travel Protocols
Link to the BVI Gateway App

We’ll send you any specific information needed to complete this step in the lead-up to the program. The application is easy to complete requiring you to submit a copy of your negative RT-PCR test results, proof of health insurance covering COVID-19 related medical expenses, and confirmation of your program booking. You’ll answer a few questions about your travel itinerary, health history and need to pay the $175 fee covering the cost of the Day Zero and Day Four in-country COVID-19 tests (see below for details). Once the BVI officials have reviewed your application, you’ll receive an email containing your Travel Authorisation Letter. You must print and carry copies of your negative COVID-19 RT-PCR test results and Travel Authorization Letter with you when you fly.

4. For students traveling to the BVI via St. Thomas – Register your arrival using the U.S. Virgin Islands Travel Screening Portal.

All students must gain pre-approval to enter the USVI, using a simple form on the U.S. Virgin Islands Travel Screening Portal. You should complete this application between 48hrs and 24hrs before travel.

 

Link to the USVI Travel Screening Portal

Once you submit the form, you’ll receive an email containing a specific QR code, likely colored orange, indicating your application is “pending.” Within a few hours, you’ll receive a second email with the same QR code, now colored green. This color change means your application is now approved. Print a copy of this QR code to carry with you as a health official will need to scan this upon arrival in St. Thomas.

5. Negative COVID-19 test (RT-PCR, Q-PCR, or approved antigen test) – 36hr (Unvaccinated & Partially Vaccinated Students Only)

Within 36 hours of traveling to the program, any student traveling in an “Unvaccinated” or “Partially Vaccinated” status must take an additional COVID-19 test and receive a negative result. This can be any kind of COVID-19 test, including a Rapid Antigen Test or Q-PCR, which produces results in as little as 15 minutes. The results need to be presentable on an official document (electronic or otherwise) that clearly shows the following:

  • Laboratory name and contact details
  • Student’s name
  • Date and time that the sample was taken
  • Negative result for COVID-19 or SARS-CoV-2

Please note – “36 hrs before traveling to the program” means no greater than 36 hrs from the time when a student can definitively prove that they started traveling to the British Virgin Islands on their most direct route (i.e., without unnecessary stopovers). The date and time of a student’s first flight is the best benchmark for this.

Rapid tests are readily available to purchase online or over-the-counter in pharmacies. One option we have used before is the Abbott Labs BinaxNow Antigen Test. Please note, any unvaccinated or partially vaccinated student who fails to submit their 36 hrs test result before traveling to the BVI will be quarantined ashore in a hotel room until the BVI Day-Zero PCR results are received, which is typically 48-hrs.

6. Submit the ActionQuest Pre-Trip Self Certification form, and upload a copy of your BVI Travel Authorization Letter and negative 36hr COVID-19 test result

Within 24 hours of travel, students (and parents if a student is under eighteen) must complete and submit our Pre-Trip Precautionary Self Certification Health Form. This form documents that over the preceding 10-day period:

  • The student has complied with their State or Country’s regulations and CDC/WHO best practices for social distancing etc.
  • The student has taken proactive precautions to limit exposure
  • The student has taken their temperature daily, and that it has continuously been within the range considered normal (98.6).
  • The student has not experienced any other symptom that may be associated with COVID-19, such as a dry cough, loss of taste or smell, etc.
  • The student has not been in physical contact with anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19 within 28 days before the trip.

Parents will be required to authorize $200 on a credit card which we will use to cover the fees associated with any mandatory re-entry testing requirement for their home country. For example, current federal regulations require all returning U.S. residents to take a COVID-19 test within 72-hrs of travel and receive a negative result. Currently, the BVI Health Department charges $70 per exit COVID-19 test, and transportation costs may vary. ActionQuest will pay these fees on behalf of the student, then capture that amount against the $200 that was initially authorized. We will provide you with an invoice for the charges made and release any excess funds back to the credit card at the end of the program.

 

Link to a sample of Pre-Trip Self Certification form

Travel Day & On-boarding Protocols

Our pre-trip risk mitigation strategies culminate on travel day and during the on-boarding process.

1. Print and Carry Essential Documents

Print out two (2) sets of the documents listed below. They do not need to be color copies. Plan to carry one set with you in your hand luggage and place the second set in your checked baggage as a backup. Photos or electronic PDFs stored on a cell phone are not accepted. You will need to present these to multiple officials throughout the day, so we suggest that you store each set in a small folder or sheet protector so that they don’t get damaged.

  • Proof of your RT-PCR COVID-19 test results that clearly shows:
    i. Laboratory name and contact details
    ii. Student’s full name that matches legal name in passport
    iii. That the test taken was an RT-PCR test
    iv. Date, time, and location where the test was taken
    v. Negative result for COVID-19 or SARS-CoV-2
  • Your British Virgin Islands Travel Authorization Letter
  • If flying through St. Thomas, a printed copy of the QR code emailed to you after you submitted your application through the U.S. Virgin Islands Travel Portal.

2. Mitigating risk during travel

We require students to take maximum personal health precautions while traveling to the program. This includes wearing a face mask, avoiding touching your face, wearing gloves and/or washing hands, and applying hand sanitizer frequently after touching common surfaces throughout the airport, aircraft, or any ground transportation.

3. BVI arrival protocols

The BVI officials will already have your details on file when you arrive, but they will still need to:

  • Check the details you submitted in the Gateway App
  • Verify the results of the negative COVID-19 RT-PCR test you took at home
  • Complete the standard arrival health check and administer the Day Zero COVID-19 RT-PCR test
  • Be fitted with a visually distinctive “Quarantine” band.

Once complete, students will be transferred to the vessels. The full BVI Protocols can be found HERE

 

4. ActionQuest Onboarding Protocol

Upon arrival, we separate students into their boat “pods” and complete a quick temperature check before boarding. Students exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 or having an elevated temperature will not be allowed to board the vessel until symptoms subside or the Day Zero negative COVID-19 test result is received.

Staff and students will wear facial coverings from arrival until the Day Zero test results are received (unless sleeping, eating, or physically distanced from one another).
Staff will administer and record daily temperature and symptom checks for the duration of the program.

"QuaranTeam" Strategy

The BVI’s current “QuaranTeam” protocols are as follows

  • Initial quarantine for four whole days. We do this aboard the vessel with our staff and crew. We can sail between designated anchorages during this time, so program activities will not be affected. We’ll need to wear the visually distinctive “quarantine bracelet” over this time (think concert band), so swimming, snorkeling, and even scuba diving should be fine.
  • Take the Day Four RT-PCR Test (actually taken on Day Five of the trip). Once the test comes back negative, there are no further restrictions.

Carefully considered shore-side activities

The goal for the duration of the program is to limit opportunities for any student or staff to become exposed or infected

We understand that eradicating all risk of contracting COVID-19 during the trip is not feasible without destroying the nature of our program. That said, we know that we can limit the risk by employing the following strategies:

  • Daily health and temperature checks
  • Carefully considered and executed shore-side activities

While ActionQuest excursions are typically more nature-based than touristy or urban, it makes sense to limit activities that put us in places that can be regarded as higher risk. Examples of this would be crowded, high-traffic areas that are indoors and/or harder to socially distance such as museums, restaurants, covered markets, etc.

Off-boarding / Re-entry Procedures

At present, most countries are requiring proof of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hrs of the start of travel home

Should this requirement remain in effect throughout the summer, our staff will coordinate your student taking the appropriate test (PCR or Antigen) within the required timeframe. We will also help parents complete any authorization application in order to re-enter or transit through certain countries.

In addition to transportation expenses, the BVI currently charges $70 per exit test. ActionQuest will cover these costs initially, then charge these fees back to our families against the amount pre-authorized at the start of the program.

Answering the difficult questions of “What if”

Naturally, students and parents want to know how we would respond to a suspected or diagnosed case of COVID-19 on our program. Given that most of our programs are mobile, and run aboard sailing vessels this isn’t an easy question to answer without examining the full range of possible variables. Specifically:

  • Is the individual showing symptoms commonly associated with COVID-19, or is there a positive diagnosis?
  • When is the suspected or diagnosed case occurring? Pre-trip, during the onboarding, during, or after the QuaranTeam period?
  • How ill is the individual? As we know, many people have limited symptoms or none at all. Others are affected more significantly, with some requiring medical care and hospitalization.
  • What’s our geographical location, and, as a result, what medical or emergency response resources are available to us? Ordinarily, sailing nearshore will provide more support than when we are further afield, yet some locations have better medical facilities than others. An additional consideration is the required health protocols of the country in which we are located.

Irrespective of the above factors, our response strategy would include:

  • Isolation and quarantine to the extent possible. This is difficult aboard the vessel, so we would likely relocate the individual to shoreside accommodation if possible. Depending on the severity of the symptoms and/or vessel schedule, it’s possible that we would require a parent/guardian to travel to the shoreside location to assist with their student during their recovery.
  • Close discussion with MedAire (our risk management partner) in addition to local health departments of the country in which we are located to ensure that we are following established protocols
  • Testing to establish a firm diagnosis. For health and safety reasons, a positive diagnosis of any individual would require dismissal from the vessel until the individual is infection-free. A known, positive diagnosis would result in widespread testing and an additional QuaranTeam period for the rest of the crew.
  • Careful monitoring of the health of the rest of the cohort. The crew may be required to disembark the vessel or move to separate accommodations to conduct a deep cleaning.

Our story of successful operation throughout the COVID era

Like the rest of the international education community, our programs were affected by the global events that unfolded in March 2020.

It was a long few months, with information evolving every day about the global spread of the Novel Coronavirus. We watched as governments intensified their mitigation mandates by restricting international travel, closing schools, and limiting in-person social interactions. We were in constant communication with our enrolled 2020 families throughout the spring, listening to their concerns while giving updates on our plans. We stayed patient for as long as we could but ultimately made the difficult but necessary decision to postpone what would have been our 35th ActionQuest summer in the British Virgin Islands. We couldn’t have been more in awe of the support and understanding our families displayed during this challenging period. Over sixty percent of our families selected to roll their program to 2021, reinforcing their commitment to giving their child the life-changing experience ActionQuest historically delivers.

While this is the story of ActionQuest’s 2020 summer, we also run a program called Seamester, a year-round academic semester at sea voyage for college and gap-year students. We’ve been running Seamester voyages successfully throughout the pandemic, and this experience has allowed us to develop time-tested strategies that we will build on for all programs in 2021.

In January of 2020, the students and staff aboard our 112ft schooner, S/Y Argo, left Cape Town, arriving in Barbados in late April to a very different set of news headlines. Sailing full time in the Caribbean, the crew aboard our 90ft schooner S/Y Ocean Star had better access to international news, so they saw the global situation unfold in real-time. It feels like a lifetime ago now, but those two voyages marked the start of our new normal.

How did we respond? Well, living and learning aboard self-sufficient sailing vessels, our teams have the unique ability to isolate for long periods. So, while we increased health protocols and limited excursions, we were not overly concerned from a health perspective. “Remote Learning” and “Distance Education” have always been central to the Seamester experience.

That said, in anticipation that border closures might restrict our ability to navigate freely, we chose to relocate our vessels to Antigua, the closest island providing good medical support and, if necessary, direct flights to the USA.

Our programs continued until the U.S. Department of State issued the global “Do Not Travel” directive, requesting that all U.S. citizens return home immediately or run the risk of becoming stuck overseas indefinitely. With the decision out of our hands, we made the painful announcement to our students that we would be continuing their semester remotely.

From March 2020, we spent countless hours educating ourselves by researching Coronavirus and the viral infection it causes. We evaluated the mitigation policies and procedures developed by governments and other organizations, tracking the adjustments they made as more scientific data became available. We watched the strategies employed by the international community, particularly as they relate to testing, quarantine, and tracing as travel restrictions began to ease.

We finalized our COVID-19 risk mitigation protocols in late spring and, while the British Virgin Islands did not open their borders (causing us to postpone all 2020 BVI voyages) on June 26, 2020, started to run programs aboard our schooners once again. Both S/Y Argo and S/Y Ocean Star sailed during the summer months, then set sail once again with our newest vessel, S/Y Vela, in September 2020, voyaging internationally with a full complement of 64 students. We’re happy to report that no student or staff has tested positive to date yet acknowledge that no COVID-19 protocol or strategy is infallible.

“We've always considered the ActionQuest experience to be more about the journey rather than the destination, so we believe that our ability to provide life-changing experiences during this challenging time is a result of the inherent flexibility and self-sufficiency that living, traveling, and learning aboard sailing vessels provide. ”

Mike Meighan - Executive Director

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