US Tours: Covid Policy (updated 19 May 2020)

Reopening domestic US-based birding tours:

Tropical Birding is looking to find creative ways of being able to operate a handful of domestic US-based trips that are no riskier than other mandated reopening activities such as visiting local restaurants or taking a picnic in your local park. This is so that people who love birding and travel can begin to explore again, and if you keep reading you will understand that we will be doing this in the safest possible way.

Statistics show that essential workers in New York State have a lower infection rate than the general populace: https://www.usnews.com/news/health-news/articles/2020-05-13/police-health-care-corrections-workers-have-lower-rate-of-coronavirus-infection-than-general-new-york-population. This means that taking precautions does not mean you have to never venture outside again, and that taking the right precautions means you can limit your exposure. We plan on running tours intelligently (read on to find out how), by taking maximum precautions, and reducing risk.

Ways to do this is personalized custom tours (particularly recommended for folks in the 60+ age group). Please let us know if there in anywhere stateside that you are interested in visiting and we can make a plan. The luxury of a custom tour will never be cheaper, and you can limit your close contact to a handful of people you know (maybe just your partner or other close friends of family you have been in touch with recently).

The other option is small group tours to wilderness areas where there are precious few other people. Iain has recently been in Yellowstone and it was empty – can you imagine that? Although we cannot guarantee anything, we can be smart and considerate. On these tours you will only interact with the same people for the week (or longer), and your web of interconnection will be extremely limited. A visit to the supermarket where thousands of items have been touched by myriad people is likely to be riskier.

Firstly, you should not be thinking about coming on any tour, and we will exclude you from participating if you:

• are experiencing any coronavirus symptoms
• are/or have recently self-isolated as a result of coronavirus symptoms or sharing a household with somebody with symptoms
• are clinically extremely vulnerable

Clinically extremely vulnerable people include the following people. Disease severity, history or treatment levels will also affect who is in the group.
1. Solid organ transplant recipients.
2. People with specific cancers:
• people with cancer who are undergoing active chemotherapy
• people with lung cancer who are undergoing radical radiotherapy
• people with cancers of the blood or bone marrow such as leukaemia, lymphoma or myeloma who are at any stage of treatment
• people having immunotherapy or other continuing antibody treatments for cancer
• people having other targeted cancer treatments which can affect the immune system, such as protein kinase inhibitors or PARP inhibitors
• people who have had bone marrow or stem cell transplants in the last 6 months, or who are still taking immunosuppression drugs
3. People with severe respiratory conditions including all cystic fibrosis, severe asthma and severe chronic obstructive pulmonary (COPD).
4. People with rare diseases that significantly increase the risk of infections (such as SCID, homozygous sickle cell).
5. People on immunosuppression therapies sufficient to significantly increase risk of infection.
6. Women who are pregnant with significant heart disease, congenital or acquired.

Also, anyone that is nervous or anxious should probably not come on tour right now. We are not suggesting this is for everyone. We realize this is something that requires folks to be comfortable with, and we want both our tour leaders and participants to be comfortable, and while being safe, still be able to enjoy themselves. Having someone nervous in a group is not fun for anyone. But if you feel like this what we describe below is something that sounds reasonable and cautious, we are creating an outlet for exploration.

So, if you understand that there are almost no 100% guarantees on Earth, but that there are many ways to minimize chances of contraction, then read on. Of course, being considerate of fellow participants is something we always promote, but at this time it will have to be first and foremost in our minds, and please just think about other folks around you, and how you would like them to act if they were you. Also, if you are a virus-denier, and refuse to take precautions or have been indulging in any reckless behavior, please do not sign-up. We will rapidly eject anyone from a tour that does not comply with safety-first recommendations.

Nothing is COVID-proof, but we are attempting to ensure that we will take every reasonable precaution to reduce exposure, such as:

• Everyone coming on a tour (including the Tropical Birding guide) will have to take a test and prove to Tropical Birding that they are not COVID positive 3-5 days before the tour commences. Failure to do this will mean you are unfortunately excluded from the tour.
• Temperatures will be measured by your tour leader on the first 7 days of the tour, if at any time your temperature exceeds 100.4F (38.0C), we will arrange for you to go to a facility for testing at your own cost. If you test negative and have proof of this, you can rejoin the tour, again at your own cost.
• While socially distancing yourself from your guide and fellow participants will be impossible, we will keep the groups to 6 people (of course custom tours can be as small as you want) plus a single TB driver/guide. So that will be a total of 6 other people you will share space with for the duration of your trip. Given that a walk in the park or shopping at a supermarket exposes you to hundreds of people, we regard this as low risk.
• Initially for US trips we are thinking of an option of folks driving to a rendezvous point and leaving in the tour bus from there. This avoids airports and airplanes. This reduces potential for exposure on your travel to the tour. However, if you read below, you will also see that there are ways to minimize exposure at airports and on airplanes and if you are going to fly, we recommend that you please take those precautions on travelling to and from airports and on flights before you join the tours.
• We will keep the bus sanitized with regular wipe downs.
• We will attempt to get packed lunches from the same places serving us breakfast and dinner to ensure limited exposure to the same kitchens. When we can, meals will be taken in the field – with nice open air far away from other people.
• Other than ourselves, we will avoid crowds at all costs, we will not be visiting any areas where social distancing (from those outside our group) will not be possible.
• We will only eat in restaurants observing social distancing practices or else we will eat in the field.
• We will choose smaller hotels with fewer rooms and not stay in large motels or business style hotels.
• We will reduce the number of hotels we stay in thereby limiting exposure to different people.

AS MANY GOVERNERS HAVE SAID, BEING SAFE DEPENDS ON PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY AND WE ALSO REMIND YOU TO PLEASE PRACTICE SAFETY YOURSELF BY:

• Regularly washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with your hands.
• Cover your mouth and nose with the inside of your elbow when you cough or sneeze.
• Wear a mask (a homemade mask made from cotton, such as a bandana, is fine) when we go out in public and are interacting with any other people.
• Clean and disinfect frequently-touched objects and surfaces.

Regarding flying, it’s worth reading this Washington Post article by Joseph Allen, an Assistant Professor of Exposure Assessment Science at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and co-author of the book “Healthy Buildings.”

https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2020/05/18/airplanes-dont-make-you-sick-really/

Also, there are ways to avoid public transport on the way to the airport, make sure you take your own food on board, use a mask at all times and keep yourself away from large crowds at airports and make sure you wash your hands regularly to make your journey as safe as possible.

These are very strange times. But we believe that if we take the precautions above, that we can run small-size birding trips throughout the USA that practice good hygiene and do everything possible to be as safe as possible according to the standards of safety as set out by the governors of the states we will be visiting.

For any of our customers that have had trips delayed or postponed to 2021, there is a possibility to use credit you have towards one of these domestic tours which means you both get a vacation in 2020 and also are able to utilize your credit sooner rather than later. Please get in touch to discuss possibilities for that with us.
These are the US domestic tours we are hoping to be able to run in the forthcoming six months with space:

20–27 June 2020 South Dakota
11–19 July 2020 Washington Birding with a Camera
20–29 July 2020 Arizona Photo Tour
29 July–7 August 2020 Arizona Birding tour
20–25 September 2020 Yellowstone and The Tetons Photo Tour
15–21 November & 22–28 November 2020 New Mexico Photo Workshop

Iain is currently in the Western US and has checked out a bunch of these locations recently, so if you feel like having a chat about what he saw and experienced. Please call (800) 348-5941 or
409-515-9110 for a chat
.