Toll Free: 800.328.8368 Phone: 512.328.5221

CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19) UPDATE

July 21, 2022

While the pandemic situation continues its steady, if uneven, improvement, the emergence this year of highly transmissible subvariants is continued cause for concern. For most people—those who are vaccinated and boosted—the news concerning COVID-19 (hereafter just “COVID”) is generally good in that infection is not the thing to be feared that it once was, and for those who do get sick, the illness is usually mild. However, now is not the time to assume we are back to normal. The appearance of the Omicron subvariants BA.4 and BA.5 has triggered fresh rounds of concern, with BA.5 being perhaps the most contagious form of the virus to date. Moreover, more people than ever—whether because of exhaustion, immunity, or indifference—have opted to stop wearing masks in enclosed space environments, leaving us more vulnerable to infection or re-infection. It is worth remembering that even a less potent COVID can still make you ill and can still disrupt travel plans.

Since our last update, six months ago, VENT has fared well in its efforts to prevent the appearance of COVID on its tours. While COVID has indeed been confirmed on a few of our tours, the cases have been restricted to one or two individuals and quickly contained. We have not faced mass spreader events, a claim that a number of other companies cannot make. Dating to April 2021, when VENT returned to tour operations, in only one instance has a tour been substantially disrupted due to COVID. Our success in operating our tours while keeping people healthy is credited to: 1) Our vaccination requirement; and 2) Our relatively stringent COVID-19 mitigation protocols, namely the wearing of masks when riding in vehicles.

We take this opportunity to re-emphasize our lasting commitment to the well-being of our tour leaders and tour participants. COVID is still out there, and, in response, we feel we cannot let our guard down. To address our concerns and any you may have, we have updated our COVID-19 Protocols, effective July 21 to reflect changing circumstances. The most important changes are described here. These policy changes will remain in effect for an undetermined period of time.

Booster shots. Early this year, we enhanced our vaccination requirement policy (primary series) to include a booster shot. The enhanced policy has served us well to this point, but has become increasingly difficult to maintain, and therefore is rescinded.

VENT now strongly recommends all tour participants be Up to Date with COVID-19 booster shots. VENT still requires the primary series of vaccinations for participation on its tours. Please refer to the CDC website to learn more about its “Up to Date” recommendation.

Pre-departure COVID testing: From the time VENT resumed tour operations in April 2021, we have strongly recommended that all participants get tested for COVID prior to departing for a tour. Given the especially high transmissibility rate of the subvariants, we re-emphasize the importance of pre-departure testing. A “Rapid” antigen test taken on the day before departure is a recommended and generally reliable method for virus detection. At the very least, participants should administer an at-home test. The purpose of a pre-departure test is to catch a possible infection before you attempt to travel and/or join the tour group. Having contracted COVID previously does not protect you from reinfection!

COVID testing on tour: Self-test COVID testing will be required of tour participants and tour leaders on all tours departing on or after August 1, on the first and third days of the tour. The adoption of this policy rests on three points:

1. The high transmissibility factor of the subvariants renders a tour group especially vulnerable to community spread should COVID appear on a tour.

2. A self-test administered on the first night of the tour provides a high degree of assurance that the tour will commence with everyone COVID-free.

3. Travel to the tour on Day 1 requires time in airports and on planes. With federal law rescinded regarding mask-wearing in these settings, travelers are now at higher risk of exposure to COVID. A self-test administered on Day 1 will not reveal an infection from the virus contracted that day. A second test, administered on Day 3, is more likely to catch a new infection. We strongly recommend you wear a mask in airports and on planes.

Each tour participant must bring two home test kits with him or her to the tour. Your tour leaders will have test kits, but these are intended for surplus use in the event a participant does not have enough testing materials with him or her, or in case additional testing is needed during the tour. The self-testing events will be done as a group.

Masks. We are no longer enforcing mask-wearing in all enclosed space environments except when traveling in touring vehicles. Masks are still required in these situations. While we sympathize that everyone is exhausted and worn-out from the events of the past two years, we still feel that outside of vaccination, wearing a mask provides the best protection against this highly contagious virus. Tour participants must wear high filtration N-95 or KN-95 masks, or, in lieu of these masks, a two-layer mask involving a surgical mask overlain by a good fitting cloth mask. Your tour leaders will have a supply with them, but we ask that you bring your own.

Beyond these changes, we continue to emphasize the importance of general public health guidance for increasing safety, especially avoiding risky social settings in the lead-up to your tour. We strongly urge you to avoid close contact with anyone whose vaccination status is unknown, for 14 days before the start of your tour. Environments to be avoided include but are not limited to sporting events, restaurants, bars, and parties.

As always, VENT will make its reasonable, best effort to keep its tour leaders and tour participants safe and healthy on its tours. Again, we feel the best chance for success in achieving this goal is through our vaccination requirement. This requirement is the best way to provide our travelers with peace of mind about their fellow travelers and tour conditions in terms of health and safety.

As referenced above, our COVID-19 health and safety protocols document provides guidance for the operation of our tours. This guidance is firmly rooted in information provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Items we address in the document include, but are not limited to, booster shots, mask-wearing, social distancing, dining protocols, accommodations, riding in vehicles, and more.

Although most places in the world are again open to travel, a few destinations remain uncertain. For any tour whose future is in question, we will continue our policy of deciding no less than six weeks prior to a tour’s start date whether it will operate; however, conditions and circumstances continue to evolve, as always, and for that reason, situations may exist when waiting until after the six-week timeline may increase our chances of operating a tour. Should you be affected by the cancellation of a tour, I assure you that our Operations team will be in contact with you. Should we have to cancel a tour, your funds may be moved to another tour or you may receive a full refund.

As always, you can reach us by email (info@ventbird.com or, for a specific employee, employee first name@ventbird.com). You can also reach us by phone (512-328-5221 or 800-328-8368). When making a call, you will reach our receptionist/staff assistant, who will connect you to the appropriate staff member or respective voice mailbox. If calling after hours, or when the receptionist is away from the desk, you will hear a general greeting, at which time you can reach the voice mailbox of any of our staff members.

If you would like to reach me directly, please call my mobile phone: 512-656-2687. All of us have the ability to check our voice messages regularly. We will return email and voice messages as promptly as we can.

Please visit this page regularly for future updates.

Your support has been critical in our ongoing recovery from the events of the past two years. We hope you will stay healthy and look forward to joining us on another great trip.

Best wishes,

Victor Emanuel

President and CEO

Victor Emanuel Nature Tours