Our COVID-19 Response
June 11, 2021
After months of careful planning, risk and safety assessments, and field testing new COVID-19 safety protocols—a process led by Earthwatch’s experienced risk management team in partnership with our scientists and field staff—we are pleased to be back in the field with our “COVID Ready” expeditions! To qualify, a project’s logistics must be completely reassessed in light of COVID-19 and specific, enhanced safety measures implemented. Please see below for a detailed breakdown of what this designation entails.
Current Field Team Status
Earthwatch has cancelled all teams fielding outside of the U.S. through the month of August, as well as our 2021 Teen Team Program. As of June 11, we have also cancelled select teams fielding outside of the U.S through the end of October.
Earthwatch response to May 13th, 2021 CDC guidance for fully vaccinated individuals:
The United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has recently released new guidance for fully vaccinated people, stating that fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a face mask or physically distancing, except where required by federal, state, local, tribal, or territorial laws, rules, and regulations, including local business and workplace guidance.
Vaccines are a crucial step towards getting to the other side of this pandemic. As vaccination numbers increase, there is a growing amount of real-world evidence indicating that available vaccines are highly protective, and that it is unlikely a vaccinated individual can transmit the virus. However, our scientific understanding of this virus and the ways in which vaccines are responding to individual variants continues to evolve. In some cases, such as among immunocompromised individuals, there is limited data available on vaccine protection. As of June 11, 2021, 53.4% of U.S. adults over the age of 18 have been fully vaccinated (you can view the latest case numbers and vaccination statistics here).
As Earthwatch begins to welcome volunteers back into the field, we have made the decision to maintain our COVID Ready safety protocols, which include physical distancing and the use of face masks for all, regardless of their vaccination status, in an effort to be inclusive of all participants.
Earthwatch's COVID Ready guidelines have been developed and field tested with the aim of protecting both vaccinated and unvaccinated participants and staff from illness, as well as reducing the risk of spreading the virus to others, including the families of our project staff who may commute between their homes and the field site each day.
Our team will continue to closely monitor emerging data and guidelines from trusted authorities, and we will continue to evolve our approach as more information becomes available. In the meantime, we thank you for helping us maintain our high standard of safety and protecting one another while fielding with Earthwatch.
We invite you to watch this video that explains our COVID Ready field practices:
COVID Ready Practices for Earthwatch Expeditions
Royalty-Free Music from Bensound.
New COVID Ready Expeditions
COVID Ready enhanced safety measures are now available on select expeditions within the United States, which will expand on a rolling basis to include additional projects, to enable our volunteers and project staff to get back into the field sooner (see COVID Ready: Returning to the Field).
THE FIRST EXPEDITIONS TO RECEIVE THE COVID READY DESIGNATION ARE:
- Climate Change: Sea to Trees at Acadia National Park
- NEW! Cracking the Code: the Mysteries of Native Bees in Utah
- NEW! Bird Songs of the Olympic Peninsula
Background on Earthwatch’s Decision Making Process
Earthwatch team cancellation decisions to date have largely been based on health and travel guidance and advisories from trusted authorities such as the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. State Department, and the World Health Organization, as well as our independent security advisor, On Call International. In some cases, cancellation decisions also relate to ongoing research challenges, including the potential impacts of COVID-19 on wildlife, the closure of parks and reserves to the public, local resource limitations, and limitations on our PIs’ abilities to travel to their respective field sites.
We will continue to make fielding and cancellation decisions on a rolling basis, as the situation and prevailing guidance continue to evolve.
Through careful logistical planning, safety preparation, and close collaboration with our researchers, we have created a project qualification called “COVID Ready.”
To qualify as COVID Ready, an individual project must undergo a complete reassessment of logistics with the project staff and implement a number of specific safety measures. These measures include (but are not limited to):
Small team sizes: Earthwatch already specializes in small group travel, but further logistical adjustments have been made, where necessary, to keep these teams small and easily distanced, yet effective.
Single accommodation options: We have adapted these programs to allow all volunteers to have single accommodations (with possibilities for rooming with members of your household).
Physical Distancing and Mask Use: Physical distance of at least 6 ft will be maintained whenever possible. When distancing is not possible or practical, face masks will be required.
Enhanced sanitation: Frequently touched surfaces and common areas will be cleaned routinely, and shared equipment will be handled with gloves and/or sanitized after each use. Handwashing and sanitizing will be part of everyday routine.
Pre-fielding screening: We will be in touch shortly before your team to go through a set of COVID screening questions, to clear you to join.
Daily Health Checks: All team members will monitor and report on their health status throughout the expedition.
Protecting local communities: To avoid posing additional risks to the communities where we work, interactions with local community members (outside of the research team staff) have been put on hold.
A word about testing and vaccinations: At this time, Earthwatch does not require participants to be tested or vaccinated prior to fielding. Participants should discuss vaccination with their health care provider to decide what is appropriate for them. Participants who are vaccinated will still be required to comply with all COVID-19 safety measures as directed by project staff, as well as applicable rules and regulations.
After a long and challenging year for all of us, we are thrilled to be able to get some of our research teams back into the field—starting off slow and steady with a few U.S.-based expeditions. Below is our current list of COVID Ready expeditions:
Please note this list will be updated regularly as additional expeditions in our current portfolio receive this designation.
We will continue adding expeditions to this list in the coming weeks and months as we work with our many scientists and field staff around the world to adjust project logistics and adapt our risk management protocols to accommodate these new COVID safety standards. You can also filter by the term “COVID Ready” on our Expedition Search web page.
If you do not see a COVID Ready stamp on an expedition web page, then it means enhanced logistical and safety preparations are still in progress for that project. Our ability to field teams on all projects will continue to be assessed on an ongoing basis, informed by the CDC and other health authorities.
As always, we are committed to using the same science-driven decision-making methods that we have always relied on to guide this important process. International risk management has been the cornerstone of Earthwatch's operations throughout our 50-year history. We are proud that our safety record has maintained the wellbeing of our volunteers and kept them informed, no matter where they have traveled. We are fully prepared to meet this same level of care and service through the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Because Earthwatch holds health and safety as a high priority for the field programs, your organization provides a gold standard for us to strive for, not just for our Earthwatch teams but for all groups that come to our campus for safe and inspiring experiences...We are so grateful for the time, thought, and effort you have put into your COVID-19 protocols and your site visit.
Sarah Hooper — Education Specialist, Schoodic Institute at Acadia National Park