OARS Response to COVID-19: What to Expect
Last updated June 10, 2021 – Originally posted March 11, 2020
We’re now well into our second season of operating during the pandemic. While we’re not out of the woods yet, the increasing rates of vaccination and lower rates of infection in the U.S. has many people excited about travel right now. In fact, we’re seeing record demand for all of our trips in the Western U.S., and many trips are sold out.
With the ability to maintain smaller group sizes, and evidence that outdoor transmission of the virus is very rare, we believe that our current mitigation plan—which includes pre-screening protocols, enhanced sanitation procedures, and reasonable physical distancing measures—allows us to successfully operate group outdoor adventures during the pandemic.
If you’re already booked on or considering an OARS adventure in the future, read on to learn more about some of our current protocols and mitigation efforts. We’re more confident than ever in our ability to facilitate life-changing experiences for our guests regardless of the circumstances.
Current COVID Measures
We expect all guides, staff, and guests to be familiar with and follow the guidance provided by state and local authorities for mitigating the spread of COVID-19. And, while we are strongly encouraging our guides and guests to get vaccinated for COVID-19, we know not everyone, including kids under 12, has that option currently. However, due to the shared nature of our accommodations at Phantom Ranch, we are requiring all guides and guests to be vaccinated in order to join us on our Grand Canyon Rim to Rim and Rim to River hiking trips this year.
Leading up to your trip, it is still critical that you exercise extra caution to reduce your risk of exposure to COVID-19, and closely monitor yourself and your family for any symptoms. A symptom check and several screening questions will be required before anyone is allowed into the meeting area for your trip, as well as on a daily basis on multi-day trips.
Because there are costs that you will incur if you cancel your reservation, if you do not pass our symptom check, or in the event you need to be evacuated during the trip due to illness or injury, we strongly encourage our guests to purchase an optional travel protection plan. A travel protection plan can reimburse you for non-refundable payments for cancellations due to covered medical reasons; and trip participants must understand that in the event of illness or injury on a wilderness trip, evacuation can be prolonged, difficult and expensive. For complete details and to purchase the plan we highly recommend, visit: https://www.oars.com/tpp
Due to recent updates to the CDC’s guidance regarding COVID-19 mitigation, and the guiding principle that outdoor activities pose minimal risk to fully vaccinated people, we are de-emphasizing the use of face coverings in outdoor settings. Face coverings will still be required while riding in shuttle vehicles and entering enclosed spaces, but they are no longer required while outside during your river trip.
To adhere to these guidelines, we’re asking all guests to arrive with their own face coverings.
Sanitation & Hygiene
OARS has always adhered to a high standard of sanitation and hygiene, but we’ve doubled down on certain protocols when it comes to transportation, equipment, hand washing, and food service.
Transportation — Hand washing/sanitizing is advised before boarding any vehicle, including planes and helicopters where applicable, and face coverings should be worn for the duration of travel. Once on board additional precautions include: opening windows whenever possible, and eliminating the use of recirculation mode for the air conditioner/heater. All vehicles are cleaned and sanitized after each use.
Equipment — With an emphasis on reducing the use of shared items, communal items are sanitized regularly, or have been eliminated. Additionally, following every trip, all equipment is properly sanitized or laundered, plus tents and sleeping pads are sanitized and/or cycled out of use for 24 hours.
Hand washing — In camp, there is an added emphasis on hand washing with two to three foot pump-operated hand wash stations at every camp. We also bring a supply of hand sanitizer and each boat is equipped with soap and/or hand sanitizer. We recommend guests also bring their own supply of hand sanitizer for more convenient personal use when other options are not available.
Food service — When packing, preparing, or otherwise handling food or beverages, staff will adhere to applicable local, state, and federal food handling requirements. At camp, no congregation will be allowed in the kitchen. We’ve also removed communal snacks and appetizers from our menus, and instead of our traditional breakfast and dinner buffets and make-your-own-sandwich lunches, meals are generally served by your guides.
Despite the communal nature of our trips, we’re asking guests to be mindful of the physical distance (>6 feet) that other people who are not part of your household, or with whom you did not travel with (your travel unit), may wish to maintain.
If a guest or guide exhibits COVID symptoms while on a trip, we will consult with local agencies on availability and justification for evacuation as soon as possible. One liaison (guide or a family member/traveling companion) will be identified to provide care to this person. These individuals will also be isolated from others and we will follow EMS/WFR protocols to provide appropriate medical treatment. Family members and friends who were traveling with the person who displayed positive symptoms will also be placed on a separate raft and required to wear a face covering. Testing for COVID-19 will be performed at the earliest opportunity and OARS will notify the appropriate agencies along with all trip participants of the results.
Please be aware of your potential impacts on the small communities you may travel through on your trip. Physical distancing, using a face covering when you’re close to others outside of your travel unit, avoiding crowded places like restaurants and bars, and not traveling at all if you have symptoms are important considerations. An outbreak in a small community could end your river trip and work for our employees—but more importantly it could be devastating for that community.
OARS International Trips
OARS and our affiliate operators are excited for international travel to return to some semblance of normal in the near future. Travel to some countries has resumed, bringing much needed work and revenue to the travel industry. Tourism is critical to the livelihood of our affiliate operators—the local guides, transportation services, hotels, camps, etc. These are small local businesses that support resident communities, and we’re proud to consider them part of our team.
As travel restrictions vary from country to country and may change from day to day, staying up to date on the most current information can be a challenge. Here at OARS, we work to keep our guests informed about the status of their upcoming trip, any requirements in place for arrival, and to provide the information needed to consider options for future travel.
Once in a country, local regulations for wearing a face covering, physical distancing, and other guidelines will apply. It is up to you, the traveler, to familiarize yourself with those regulations and abide by them during your visit.
All travelers (2 years of age or older) arriving to the United States by air must provide proof of a negative result from a COVID-19 test taken no more than 3 days prior to boarding a flight. Alternatively, documentation of recovery from COVID-19 stating you’ve been cleared to travel must be provided. This information needs to be provided to the airline prior to boarding a flight. Please visit the CDC for the most current information.
Below is a list of destinations offered by OARS International and the status of traveling there. (This list is intended for citizens and travelers originating from the U.S. If you’re a citizen or traveling from another country, you’re best served checking the website of that country’s embassy in the destination you’re inquiring about.)
Argentina – remains closed to U.S. travelers.
Baja, Mexico – open to U.S. travelers arriving by air. Requirements for entry include: none.
Canada – closed to U.S. travelers for the purpose of tourism. For our trips in the Yukon Territory, you can find information specific to that region here. For our trips in British Columbia, you can find information specific to that region here.
Chile – closed to U.S. travelers.
Costa Rica – open to U.S. travelers. Requirements for entry include: proof of a travel medical insurance policy for the dates of travel that covers any COVID-19 related medical treatment (medical expense coverage of US$50,000 or more) and quarantine accommodation (US$2,000 or more); a “Health Pass” completed 48 hours or less prior to arrival (available online).
Croatia – open to U.S. travelers. Requirements for entry include: documentary evidence of accommodation paid in advance and in full; a vaccination certificate for persons who received a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine more than 14 days prior to entry, or; a negative PCR test result not older than 72 hours prior to arrival or a negative antigen test result not older than 48 hours prior to arrival, or; proof of recovery from COVID-19: 1) a medical certificate or 2) a positive PCR or rapid antigen test performed in the last 12-180 days. Travelers can facilitate faster processing at the border by completing an entry form (available online). Refer to the Croatian government’s Ministry of Interior webpage for more information.
Cuba – open to U.S. travelers. Requirements for entry include: a negative COVID-19 PCR test result not older than 72 hours prior to arrival; a completed “Health Declaration Card” (available online); incoming travelers are subject to a mandatory PCR test and self-isolation until they receive the result of the PCR test; travel medical insurance.
Fiji – open to U.S. travelers; however, significant restrictions are in place. Requirements for entry include: advance permission from the Government of Fiji (email: email@example.com); proof of a negative result from a PCR test; quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in a Nadi-area hotel; travelers will be tested for COVID while in quarantine; travelers are responsible for the full cost of accommodation and testing.
Ecuador – open to U.S. travelers. Requirements for entry include: a negative COVID-19 PCR test result or rapid antigen test result not older than 3 days prior to arrival, or; a vaccination card showing the traveler has completed a series of a COVID-19 vaccine, or; a medical certificate attesting to recovery from a positive COVID-19 diagnosis with more than one month since the onset of symptoms.
Galapagos – open to U.S. travelers. Requirements for entry include: a negative PCR test result not older than 96 hours prior to arrival; completed “Safe Conduct” document provided by the tour operator or accommodation provider; completed Traveler Health Declaration Form; health insurance.
Morocco – open to U.S. travelers. Requirements include: a vaccination certificate, or; a negative result from a COVID-19 PCR test administered within 48 hours of arrival.
Peru – open to U.S. travelers. Requirements include: either a negative PCR test result, a negative antigen test result, or a medical certificate of epidemiological discharge, none of which can be older than 72 hours prior to boarding your inbound flight; a completed “Affidavit of Health and Geolocation Authorization” (available online).
Zambia & Botswana – both open to U.S. travelers. Requirements for entry include: a negative COVID-19 PCR test result not older than 72 hours prior to departure from the country of origin. Botswana requires a negative COVID-19 PCR test result within 72 hours of departure.
The payment, reschedule, and cancellation policy for international trips varies depending on the OARS International destination you choose. We understand how important it is for our guests to know what payments are expected, when those are collected, and what policies are in place to assure a future credit or refund should the trip not take place. Our work ethic is to be transparent and up-front with guests, so you can rest assured you’re well-informed and kept up-to-date on the status of your reservation and trip. To discuss the various destinations and travel options with OARS International, please call our International Reservations Manager, Tom Patoff, at 209-753-4799.
If you need to cancel your trip — Please give us a call ASAP to discuss your options. To provide for some additional flexibility during these uncertain times, we’ve revised our final payment due dates and modified our cancel/transfer policies for many of our trips, which will allow you, under certain criteria, to transfer your trip payments to a hold account or request a refund at a reduced cost.
If OARS has to cancel your trip — If a trip (operated by OARS in the lower 48) must be cancelled or postponed due to factors outside our control, OARS will provide full credit for payments made toward future travel, or a refund less a 5% service fee plus any nonrefundable payments made on your behalf to 3rd-party suppliers. OARS will make good faith efforts to recover any payments made on your behalf to 3rd-party suppliers, however we can’t guarantee recovery of any or all of the advance payments made. OARS is not responsible for expenses incurred by participants in preparation for a cancelled trip.
One for the Books!
Thank you to all of you who have trusted us with your vacation this year, or are planning to travel with us soon. We are in the midst of one of our busiest seasons ever, and we wouldn’t be able to be out there doing what we love most if it wasn’t for the cooperation and understanding of all our stellar guests.
As always, we’ll continue to watch, read, listen, and consult with health professionals, permitting agencies, local communities, and colleagues until we can officially say we’re on the other side.
Vice President, Sales & Marketing
The OARS Family of Companies