April 18th – Decreased Pre Trip Precautionary Period from 14 to 10 days.
April 17th – Comprehensive update of all protocols that also includes information on vaccination recommendations and requirements.
August 3rd – Update of protocols to remove references to Summer 2021 voyages.
August 27th – Indicated that the definition of “fully vaccinated” may change with the recommendation of booster shots. Underscored the importance of the Pre-trip Precautionary Period for fully vaccinated individuals, adding a reference to the Delta COVID-19 variant. Updated the Self-Certification Form.
August 30th – Better defied pre-arrival COVID-19 testing requiremments for students who need to travel during the 10-day pre-trip precautionary period.
August 30, 2021 (see below for modifications)
April 18th – Decreased Pre Trip Precautionary Period from 14 to 10 days.
What follows is an overview of our current risk mitigation protocols and procedures, developed around these over-arching strategies:
- Reduce the possibility of an infected person joining the vessel
- “QuaranTeam” within reach of definitive medical care before heading further afield
- Limit opportunities for a crew member to become infected while underway
While these primary strategies will remain the same, the methods we employ to achieve them will likely change over time, perhaps considerably, based on the availability of vaccination, scientific data, and directives/requirements from airlines or governmental agencies.
Sea|mester currently requires all students to be fully vaccinated* for COVID-19 before the program start date, irrespective of program location or whether the student has previously recovered from COVID-19.
With most countries worldwide working hard to vaccinate their population as quickly as possible, there is considerable speculation on how vaccination status will change an individual’s ability to travel internationally. Many countries are adopting policies requiring proof of COVID-19 vaccination to fast-track quarantine requirements or even enter their Territory. These policies protect their population (many of whom may not receive the vaccine for some time) while restarting their tourism economy.
We respect individuals’ right to choose whether a COVID-19 vaccination is appropriate for them. Yet, as an international program visiting multiple international destinations, we must be ready to adhere to local policy while looking out for our students’, staff’s, and local community’s general health and safety.
*Fully vaccinated – current definition
The CDC considers individuals fully vaccinated for COVID-19 greater than or equal to 2 weeks after they have received the second dose in a 2-dose series (Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna, AstraZeneca, etc.), or greater than or equal to 2 weeks after they have received a single-dose vaccine (Johnson and Johnson [J&J]/Janssen).
It’s possible that this definition may change with the recommendation of “booster shots” and will be updated in our protocols accordingly.
The goal of our pre-trip protocols is to reduce the possibility of an infected person joining the vessel
1. 10-day pre-trip precautionary period
Before joining our program, we require that all students take part in a 10-day pre-trip precautionary period. We know that fully vaccinated individuals can become infected and test positive for COVID-19, particularly in places where the Delta variant is more prevalent, so taking a proactive approach prior to joining our program is a condition of participation.
Over the course of these 10 days, at an absolute minimum, students must 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 by limiting the possibility of exposure. A student’s ability to join the program is absolutely determined by the personal decisions being made during this period of time, so our strong suggestion is to refrain from unnecessary travel, avoid groups and gatherings (particularly indoors), socially distance where possible, wear a mask in public and practice high standards of personal hygiene.
2. Pre-Arrival Negative COVID-19 PCR test
For students traveling directly and continuously to the vessel at the end of the 10-day precautionary health period.
At a minimum, within 72 hrs of traveling to the vessel, students are required to take a COVID-19 Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test and receive a negative result. Rapid antigen tests will not be accepted.
Please note that “72 hrs of traveling to the vessel” is defined as 72 hrs from the time that a student can definitively prove that they started traveling to the vessel, so the date and time of a student’s first flight is the benchmark typically used. Our experience shows that a 24-48hr testing turnaround is easily met when working through a primary health care provider. Another good resource is the following user-generated list of centers that have met this requirement for travelers – https://testfortravel.com/
For students traveling indirectly to the vessel prior to, or during the 10-day precautionary health period.
We strongly discourage students from traveling to the vessel starting location early, or from making voluntary stops to alternate locations prior to arrival aboard as we consider that this will increase the risk of exposure. If direct travel is unavoidable, students are required to take a COVID-19 Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test and receive a negative result within 72 hrs of arriving aboard the vessel. Rapid antigen tests will not be accepted. Sea|mester cannot advise or be responsible for making arrangements for this testing.
In all cases the results of a COVID-19 PCR test 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 either PCR or RT-PCR
- Date and time that the sample was taken
- Negative result for COVID-19 or SARS-CoV-2
3. Submit the Sea|mester Self Certification form and upload the negative test result
Within 24 hours of traveling to the embarkation point, students (and parents if a student is under the age of eighteen) are required to complete and submit our Pre-Trip Precautionary Self Certification Health Form. This form documents that over the preceding 10-day period:
- The student has completed their Pre-Trip Precautionary Period by following the expectations outlined above.
- The student has not experienced any symptoms that may be associated with COVID-19, such as a fever, dry cough, loss of taste or smell, etc.
- That the student has not been in physical contact with anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19 within 14 days before the trip.
A sample of this form can be viewed HERE
Our pre-trip risk mitigation strategies culminate on travel day and during the onboarding process.
1. Mitigating risk during travel
We require students to take maximum personal health precautions while traveling to the vessel. 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.
2. Destination country arrival protocols
Prior to travel day, Sea|mester will provide students information on any actionable protocols or procedures being required by the destination country. We typically do this as part of the Pre-Trip Self-Certification Form. Specific requirements vary from county to country, but typically include any number of the following:
- Pre-submission of a health data form to the Department of Health
- Arrival health check
- Presentation of proof of negative COVID-19 PCR test, taken within the time frame determined by the country
- Arrival COVID-19 test (PCR or Antigen)
3. Sea|mester Onboarding Protocol
Upon arrival at the vessel, our students undergo an onboarding process, which may include, but not be limited to the following:
- Students who selected to travel indirectly to the vessel prior to, or during the 10-day precautionary health period may be required to complete a COVID-19 rapid antigen test prior to boarding. Any student who tests positive will be denied boarding and will be required to isolate at a designated shoreside facility until further testing has been completed. The cost of the testing and shore-side accommodation (if required) is the student’s responsibility. The ability to join the program is determined by further testing results, the local jurisdiction’s COVID-19 quarantine protocols and vessel schedule.
- General health and temperature check – Students exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 or having an elevated temperature will not be allowed to board until symptoms subside or another negative COVID-19 test is received
- Review of the data submitted in the Pre-Trip Self-Certification Form
- Review of the details on the negative COVID-19 PCR test
Once aboard, our current strategy incorporates an initial “QuaranTeam” period within reach of definitive medical care.
The duration of this period is often dictated by the health protocols of the destination country, and may even require additional COVID-19 tests at particular milestones. Irrespective of the country’s protocols, our goal is to restrict interactions to members of our own team over this period, remaining near definitive medical care until we feel confident that no one aboard is infected. We do not undertake ocean crossings until our Quaranteam is complete. Due to our unique shipboard environment, this Quaranteam doesn’t negatively affect the programmatic experience as, aside from shore-side activities, we’re able to run our itinerary, academics, and scuba training during this period. Our current Quaranteam strategies are as follows:
- 14-day period with daily health and temperature checks
- 7-day period with daily health and temperature checks, and a negative COVID-19 test received upon completion of the seven days
The goal for the rest of the voyage is to limit opportunities for any crew member to become infected
We understand that eradicating all risk of contracting COVID-19 during the voyage is not feasible without destroying the nature of our program. That said, we know that we can limit the risk by limiting potential exposure while monitoring our health and submitting to occasional COVID-19 testing, something which is often required when traveling from country to country
While Sea|mester 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.
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 our unique living environment and voyage itinerary, 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, being nearshore will provide more support than when we are offshore, 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 to conduct a deep cleaning.
We've always considered the Sea|mester 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 a sailing vessel provides.
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 Sea|mester 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.
Since March, we’ve spent countless hours educating ourselves by researching Coronavirus and the viral infection it causes. We’ve evaluated the mitigation policies and procedures developed by governments and other organizations, tracking the adjustments they make as more scientific data becomes available. We’ve watched the strategies employed by the international community, particularly as they relate to testing, quarantine, and tracing as travel restrictions begin to ease.
We finalized our COVID-19 risk mitigation protocols in late spring and, on June 26, 2020, started to run programs once again. Both S/Y Argo and S/Y Ocean Star sailed during the summer months of that year, then set sail once again with our newest vessel, S/Y Vela, in September 2020, voyaging internationally with a full complement of 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.