Last week, the U.S. State Department revised their system and methodology for assigning Travel Advisory levels relative to COVID-19. This resulted in many more countries having a Level 4 (Do Not Travel) advisory. API would like to take this opportunity to clarify how this change might affect our decisions to conduct programs abroad.
While a level 4 advisory is certainly impactful, it does not automatically alter our decision to conduct programs in a particular country. We consider the CDC and the U.S. State Department (DOS) levels as important factors to consider when making our decisions about the safety of a given site. However, we also note that there has recently been a shift in the methodology used by the government in determining these levels (see below). In light of these changes, we feel it is necessary to continue to consider additional factors when evaluating whether or not to cancel a program in a particular country or region.
Change in State Department Methodology. The State Department’s levels traditionally have been based on risk related to political instability, terrorism, and crime rates. Under the historic
methodology the countries where we host students typically have are ranked in lower risk categories. Under the new methodology, the State Department travel advisory level is tied specifically to COVID-19 and the CDC risk assessment of the country, wherein Level 4 is given to any country with a COVID-19 incidence rate of more than 100 per 100,000 people over the past 28 days. The State Department also factors in restrictions the country has in place that make it more difficult for people from the U.S. to enter.
While this new DOS methodology offers an important data point, our Health and Safety team augments the information from the CDC and DOS, on a daily and weekly basis, to provide additional specific context to the situation in any given country. For example, we look at factors such as daily trends, changes in infection rates and entry requirements, and a country’s progress with the vaccination of their own population, to name a few. Specifically, in addition to DOS travel warnings, we monitor the following conditions in the host countries where we operate:
- Average infection rates over the past 7 days
- Upward and downward trends in infection rates and deaths
- Capacity within the healthcare system
- Vaccination rates within each of our countries and host cities
- Entry requirements for the country or region. For example E.U. entry restrictions / allowances, including but not limited to traveler vaccination status, pre-departure testing, and quarantine upon arrival.
- Local restrictions in the city
Using all of these factors, the team makes site-specific, data-driven decisions on where conditions are favorable for in-person programming. Each site and its corresponding statistics are assessed a minimum of 60 days prior to the start date and again at 30 days prior. If we have reservations about the conditions in the host country or requirements for entry, API will proactively cancel a program, communicate this decision and provide appropriate time to allow students to make other arrangements to ensure student safety. When possible, we will recommend extending summer and fall deadlines to provide more flexibility for students, as well as time to further analyze the impact of each country’s vaccination rates and the on-the-ground conditions within each country.