FAQ’s for AFS Volunteers Regarding COVID-19

FAQ’s for AFS Volunteers Regarding COVID-19

Since the last list of FAQ’s for AFS Volunteers was posted here on MyAFS, a number of events and changes have taken place. We’d like to share some additional guidance to help in responding to members of the AFS community (families, students, etc.).

Since the European travel ban was announced, are our students ‘stuck’ in Europe?

No. U.S. Citizens and holders of permanent residency status (among others) are able to travel freely from European countries to the United States. Should it become necessary to bring a group (or groups) of students home (or should a parent request the return of their teen) the students, host families, parents, our staff and volunteers are all informed by AFS.

It seems to me that by returning groups of U.S. students from a specific host country, AFS may be contributing to the spread of COVID-19?
There are a number of factors that influence the decisions we make to close a hosting program. Ultimately, the decision is based on the health, safety, and well-being of our student, and reflects the best information we have at the time. Some of the information we consider, for example, is: whether or not the host country’s medical infrastructure can effectively manage the potential needs of our students; the potential for long-term quarantines that include flight bans; the added pressure placed upon a host family that causes a sense of increased obligation to the well-being of their hosted student; the projected outlook for the host country; and many more factors. Of course, in every decision we use the information and guidance provided to us by the U.S. Department of State, the CDC, and the WHO (among others).

When students come home from a Level 3 or 4 country, will they be quarantined at the airport?

As of this writing (March 12), there are no imposed quarantines upon arrival. However, AFS-USA asks all participants to follow CDC guidelines by taking the following precaution upon arrival: “Travelers returning from the specified countries in Europe must stay home for 14 days after returning from travel, monitor their health, and practice social distancing. Travelers who are sick with fever, cough, or have trouble breathing should call ahead before seeking medical care.”

Doesn’t that put their own families at risk? What is AFS’ plan?

The transmission of COVID-19 can occur anywhere, at any time, to anyone. AFS does not have a plan for isolating students from their parents/guardians. Our responsibility is to return them to the care of their parents as quickly as possible (if/when a program is closed). For suggested measures to protect their families (especially for more vulnerable family members), families should consider alternative arrangements during the 14-day quarantine. We would encourage families to consult local public health officials for options available in their community.

With independent travel now suspended, does this also mean that students cannot travel with their host families?

While trips with host families are not suspended, we strongly urge host families to reconsider or postpone their plans.

Are students who purchased trips through Belo, their local volunteers, etc. eligible for a refund since the travel suspension was imposed by AFS?

While it’s unfortunate, refunds (if available at all) are only provided by the organizers (companies and/or individuals) in accordance with their own refund policies. Unfortunately, AFS will not be able to provide, assist with, or influence refunds. There are many individuals, businesses, and organizations being impacted by COVID-19, including matters that involve travel and finances.

Are we still planning to host students for the upcoming school year?

Absolutely! While the current situation around COVID-19 adds difficulties for some teams (but fortunately not all), we’re optimistic that the world will find solutions and that we’ll return to our normal lives very soon.Of course, should things only deteriorate, we will evaluate the situation and make the appropriate decisions, but not until we are within a closer range of the time students are to arrive.

If local schools are closed will currently hosted students be sent home?

At this time we have not received guidance from the Department of State indicating that the situation you describe would result in students needing to return home.