COVID-19 Information


(This page contains sections on Safety, 3 Response Scenarios, & Articles)

Safety:
Interim's primary concern is the safety of our students. Given COVID-19, we are monitoring the most informed news about it so that we can share the best information with our families.

For finding available vaccines in your area:

The following resources provide reliable and timely sources of information:
The Center for Disease Control
The United States Department of State
The World Health Organization for International Travel and Health
The National Association of International Educators

For updated travel restrictions by country:
IATA - International Air Transport Association and US Dept of State

3 Scenarios in Response to COVID-19 Potential Restrictions:
Families are understandably concerned about COVID-19 and its effects on taking gap time and travel. Since the fall of 2020, we have witnessed most all of our students attending programs safely on site, with peers and leaders in the US as well as some locations abroad. Spring 2021 students engaged in group programs as well as more independent internship placements and volunteer work, both domestically and internationally. These students were not yet vaccinated. In the gap year community at large, of the few students we heard about who tested positive for the virus, all had either mild or no symptoms and quarantined on site before rejoining programs. Now that most students are vaccinated, the chance of serious infection has been considerably reduced and more locations in the world have opened up. However, we continue to recommend considering the three response scenarios below in the face of the range of available options and any necessary last minute changes:

  1. Ideal Options: If students are eager to attend programs out of the US, they apply and see how things go in terms of travel restrictions - this worked well in 2020 with students able to step into programs in Ireland, the UK, Israel, Italy, Spain, Iceland, Croatia, and Costa Rica.
  2. Backup Domestic Options: Students also apply to US-based programs which can range from group gap year options, to shorter skill-based intensives, some internship options (tougher to find in the US for gap year students), and volunteer placements. We had many students in 2020 on group programs in Hawaii and the mainland US, as well as clearing trails in national parks, doing business and physical therapy internships, and attending Wilderness EMT certification courses. 
  3. Backup Backup Options: Our  ORL (Online Resource List) of over 85 links include courses of all kinds, internships, volunteer work, seminars and certifications, arts, fitness, etc. Most of our 2020 students did not have to utilize these options and few current students even need to consider the ORL options.

One great gap year benefit is how much flexibility is involved with swift and easy changes in plans as needed. Program variety, even if more limited than usual, allows students to still engage in interesting experiences, and with increased freedom of movement, they can turn on a dime to step into options further afield. Gap year learning is all about rolling with change and the challenge of becoming comfortable with shifting plans due to internal or external factors. Our world situation with COVID-19 definitely poses one of the more challenging external pressures for change, but we have seen first hand that it is possible for students to successfully carry on and derive the same core benefits that make gap time such an extraordinary option to experience.

Articles:

NYTimes (11/29/21) - response to Omicron variant concerns:

Good morning. What should you assume about Omicron?

Crowds in London this weekend.Tom Nicholson/Reuters

The very early signs

The public reaction to new Covid-19 variants has followed a familiar cycle. People tend to assume the worst about two different questions — whether the variant leads to faster transmission of the Covid virus and whether it causes more severe illness among infected people.

The first of those worries came true with the Alpha and Delta variants: Alpha was more contagious than the original version of the virus, and Delta was even more contagious than Alpha. But the second of the worries has largely not been borne out: With both Alpha and Delta, the percentage of Covid cases that led to hospitalization or death held fairly steady.

This pattern isn’t surprising, scientists say. Viruses often evolve in ways that help them flourish. Becoming more contagious allows a virus to do so; becoming more severe has the potential to do the opposite, because more of a virus’s hosts can die before they infect others.

It is too soon to know whether the Omicron variant will fit the pattern. But the very early evidence suggests that it may. Unfortunately, Omicron seems likely to be more contagious than Delta, including among vaccinated people. Fortunately, the evidence so far does not indicate that Omicron is causing more severe illness:

  • Barry Schoub, a South African virologist who advises the government there, has said that Omicron cases have tended to be “mild to moderate.” Schoub added: “That’s a good sign. But let me stress it is early days.”
  • Dr. Rudo Mathivha, the head of the intensive care unit at a hospital in Soweto, South Africa, said that severe cases have been concentrated among people who were not fully vaccinated.
  • Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, a top health official in Israel, emphasized yesterday that when vaccinated people were infected, they became only slightly ill, according to the publication Haaretz.
  • As The Times’s Carl Zimmer wrote, “For now, there’s no evidence that Omicron causes more severe disease than previous variants.”

In the initial days after a new variant is discovered, I know that many people focus on worst-case scenarios. The alarming headlines can make it seem as if the pandemic may be about to start all over again, with vaccines powerless to stop the variant.

To be clear, there is genuine uncertainty about Omicron. Maybe it will prove to be worse than the very early signs suggest and cause more severe illness than Delta. But assuming the worst about each worrisome new variant is not a science-based, rational response. And alarmism has its own costs, especially to mental health, notes Dr. Raghib Ali, an epidemiologist at the University of Cambridge.

“Of course we should take it seriously,” Ali wrote on Twitter, “but there is no plausible scenario that this variant is going to take us back to square one (i.e. the situation pre-vaccines).”

Administering a vaccine in Pretoria, South Africa.Phill Magakoe/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Absent new evidence, the rational assumption is that Covid is likely to remain overwhelmingly mild among the vaccinated (unless their health is already precarious). For most vaccinated people, Covid probably presents less risk than some everyday activities.

On “Meet the Press” yesterday, Dr. Anthony Fauci emphasized the continuing power of vaccination, even against variants. “It may not be as good in protecting against initial infection,” Fauci said, “but it has a very important impact on diminishing the likelihood that you’re going to get a severe outcome from it.”...


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