LEAD EDITORIAL: Is it too Soon to TREC?

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As we return to a more normal, post-pandemic world, some activities like travel are becoming acceptable again. Drew University is reopening many of its short- and long-TREC programs for students. TRECs will take place across the globe, from South Africa, to Greece, to Barcelona and Belize and are scheduled to take place in the spring and summer. But, it could be too soon to start up study abroad programs again.

With the start of the pandemic, many countries across the globe fell into a state of emergency and enacted travel restrictions in an attempt to prevent the spread of COVID-19. At the time, this left many travelers stranded in foreign countries for months.

Although the number of COVID-19 cases significantly decreased and the number of vaccinations increased, there remains the threat of another shutdown and reinstatement of travel bans. Furthermore, there is the new threat of the delta variant of COVID-19, which is more contagious than the original strand. 

white airliner wing on top of sea clouds
Photo by C. Cagnin on Pexels.com

According to Yale Medicine’s website, “Delta is believed to be more than twice as contagious as previous variants, and studies have shown that it may be more likely than the original virus to put infected people in the hospital.”

With the rapid rate of COVID spread and its ability to hospitalize more patients, the possibility of a second world-wide shutdown is not unlikely. If students are abroad and such an event occurs, they could be stranded for months. They would be forced to stay away from their families and friends and likely pay for greater travel expenses than expected. 

The average reported number of delta variant COVID cases was about 12,000 in late June, but increased to a 7-day moving average of 60,000 in July, 2021, according to data from the CDC.

It is clear that the numbers are concerning. As much as we hope another shut down does not occur, it cannot be considered impossible. 

Likewise, if an unvaccinated student goes on a TREC, they are at greater risk of contracting COVID, which could put everyone they interact with in danger of getting sick.

Even when vaccinated, students face risks while travelling because of the delta variant. The Yale Medicine website reported, “While most delta infections have been in people who have not had a vaccine, data also has shown the variant to have increased transmissibility even among some vaccinated people.” 

This leaves considerable room for concern over the health and wellbeing of students while abroad. 

Travel restrictions are also an issue, due to the variety of regulations put in by other countries. This includes quarantining requirements and stay-at-home orders upon arrival to the destination. Adhering to such restrictions is crucial for preventing the spread of COVID-19, but it can complicate travel plans considerably for students hoping to go abroad.

For instance, the New York Times says, “[…] the new policy does require unvaccinated Americans to provide proof of a negative result from a test taken within one day of their return flight to the United States, and to test again after they land.”

Although there are new guidelines about COVID-19 testing that minimizes quarantine time, if a student returns to the U.S. with a positive test for the virus, it poses a slew of problems. 

Quarantine times would greatly extend their duration of stay in the foreign country because of a U.S. policy which, according to the New York Times, mandates that travelers must provide proof of a negative test result one day before their return to the country. This would increase the cost of the trip as the student would have to pay for housing and food for a considerably longer period of time. 

From another angle, if a student were to catch COVID-19 while abroad, this would have a similar effect. They would have to quarantine before returning which could either render them unable to participate in the program, making the money they spent a waste.

Although TRECs are a valuable part of the Drew experience, it is still too soon to begin the programs again. Being able to study abroad is important for students because it opens so many opportunities to students and unlocks new passions, but travel at this time is too risky to endorse any international trips.

**NOTE 10/28/2021 — unvaccinated students are not permitted to go on TRECs at this time**

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