Toll Free: 800.328.8368 Phone: 512.328.5221

CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19) UPDATE

January 7, 2022

Dear friends:

Following our return to tour operations in the spring last year, VENT had operated 52 tours by the time 2021 had come to a close. That we could run so many tours in light of ongoing circumstances was attributable to a number of important factors. Above all was the deployment of vaccines, but not to be under-emphasized was the hard work of our employees to develop COVID-19 prevention protocols designed to keep everyone on VENT tours healthy. With the Delta-fueled surge of the summer and fall gradually receding, we looked to the end of the year and the start of the new year with guarded optimism. While we feel that 2022 will be a much better year overall than 2021, the winter surge brought by the Omicron variant is a stark reminder that difficult conditions will continue to prevail in the near-term future.


While no one can know exactly what is going to happen as the surge (and pandemic overall) plays out, there is a growing feeling in the epidemiological community that the Omicron-fueled surge will peak later in January, and then begin subsiding thereafter (although how fast is a subject of debate).

Omicron differs from previous variants in important ways, principally in that it thrives more in the airways of the respiratory tract rather than attacking the lungs. Consequently, the illness brought on by the virus seems milder in many people (at least among the vaccinated) than illness brought by previous variants. Conversely, it is also known to be more transmissible.

To address concern about Omicron that participants on upcoming VENT tours may be feeling, we have updated our COVID-19 Protocols to reflect upgrades to our policies, effective January 15. The most important changes are described here. These policy changes will remain in effect for an undetermined period of time. Our hope is that we will be able to relax the new standards before too long, but as of now it is simply too early to know how long they will remain in effect. The bottom line is that we will do what we must to get through the current surge, and then we will re-evaluate our policies.

1) Booster shots. Since the deployment of vaccines last year, “fully vaccinated” meant that an individual was two weeks beyond having received the amount of vaccine required for reaching full immunity, to the degree CDC-authorized vaccines confer. We have enhanced our definition of “fully vaccinated” to include booster shots. VENT requires that all tour participants and tour leaders who are eligible to receive a booster shot do so as a prerequisite for participation. NOTES: Our COVID-19 prevention protocols are grounded in CDC guidance; however, this decision is a rare departure from that guidance. The CDC has not revised its definition of what it means to be fully vaccinated, although it does recommend booster shots. CDC guidance for booster shots varies by vaccine.

2) Masks. Cloth masks by themselves, even good fitting ones, are considered ineffective and are no longer sufficient for a VENT tour. Rather, 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. The N-95, KN-95, and surgical masks are made of materials with an electrostatic charge that are superior to other types of face coverings for gathering viral particles that may be in the air around you, and preventing you from inhaling them. Our tour leaders will have a supply with them, but we ask that you bring your own.

3) Recommended pre-departure testing. During the current surge, for your own safety and for the safety of your fellow travelers, for domestic and international tours we strongly recommend scheduling a PCR test within three days of traveling to your destination, or at least taking an at-home test on the day before you travel. Some international destinations already require proof of a negative PCR test before boarding flights from the USA, while others require testing upon arrival. We realize there are a multitude of protocols to consider regarding international travel, but rest assured that our staff is up to date on each country’s requirements. For at-home testing, a shortage of testing supplies is a problem presently, but this situation is expected to improve in the coming weeks. PCR tests can be scheduled in a variety of ways, including through your doctor, health clinics, public health facilities, or pharmacies. It can take up to 48 hours or more to receive results from standard PCR tests. “Rapid” or “same-day” PCR tests will be preferred by many people. Please note that same-day testing sites may have long lines and extended wait times, unless scheduled in advance.

Beyond these changes, we at VENT also 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 mid-size or large groups of people, or 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. We feel that the best chance for success in achieving this goal is through our enhanced vaccination requirement. A 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, hand washing, and more.

As has been the case for months, we feel assured that all of our domestic tours will operate from now on. Our ability to operate international departures will continue to be determined on a case-by-case basis, although we are steadily more confident about our prospects for these tours as well, especially as the current surge subsides. When considering each of our international tours, we rely on a variety of sources that together inform our decision-making. Those with whom we consult are our tour leaders, agents and ground operators, local guides, and other in-country contacts, as well as information provided by the U.S. Department of State and the CDC.

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.

VENT office staff employees continue to work largely from home. Regardless, you should know that VENT most definitely remains open for business! 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, Connie Buck, who will connect you to the appropriate staff member or respective voice mailbox. If calling after hours, or when Connie is away from her 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 Victor directly, please call his 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 ability to get through this unprecedented time. 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