Toll Free: 800.328.8368 Phone: 512.328.5221

CORONAVIRUS (COVID-19) UPDATE

January 23, 2023

Dear friends:

Since our last update, five months ago, VENT has fared generally well in its efforts to prevent the appearance of COVID-19 (hereafter “COVID”) on its tours. Previously, we wrote that although the pandemic situation continued its general trajectory of improvement, the emergence of highly transmissible subvariants was continued cause for concern, but that for most people—those who are vaccinated and boosted—infection is not the thing to be feared that it once was. Essentially, not a lot has changed in this regard. Last July we wrote about the BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants. Now, we are on to XBB.1.5. The story remains the same. At this point, contracting COVID will almost certainly not kill you if you are properly vaccinated, yet even a less potent COVID can still make you ill and still disrupt travel plans.

Late last summer we updated our prevention protocols in which we announced that masks would still be required while riding in vehicles, and that everyone on a tour is subject to a two-sequence rapid antigen test on the first and third nights. As we stated then, and as continues to be the case, more people than ever—whether because of exhaustion, immunity, or indifference—have opted to stop wearing masks in enclosed space environments. We feel this is unfortunate. We especially feel it is a mistake to go unmasked in travel environment settings such as airports and airplanes where the risk of exposure is greater. To demonstrate this point, since rolling out our two-sequence testing regime on August 1, 2022, approximately two dozen cases of COVID have been detected on our tours (most of these were in the August–October period, and this figure is out of hundreds of participants). To date, zero cases have been detected after the first round of testing, while all confirmed cases have been detected on or around the second round of testing. This difference in occurrence is striking, and we think serves as strong anecdotal evidence that some people are contracting COVID while traveling to their tour.

We trust the efficacy of our preventative measures, and firmly believe they have made a difference in keeping our tour participants and tour leaders safe. Moreover, when COVID has been detected on a tour, we have in most cases been successful in mitigating its spread to others on the tour.

In 2020, the Trump Administration issued a Public Health Emergency in response to the pandemic. This declaration is up for renewal every three months and has remained in effect to the present. Most recently, the Biden Administration renewed the declaration until April 10, 2023. This means VENT will likely keep its protocols in place a while longer.

We again take this opportunity to re-emphasize our lasting commitment to the well-being of our tour leaders and tour participants. To address our concerns and any you may have, we restate the continuation of the COVID-19 Protocols in place since August 1, 2022.

Booster shots. VENT 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 is required of tour participants and tour leaders on all tours on the first and third nights of the tour. 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, where we feel unmasked travelers are 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. Mask-wearing is not required in any indoor or outdoor environment 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 strongly 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.

In supplement to this statement, 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, managing COVID in case of infection, and more.

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 office manager, who will connect you to the appropriate staff member or respective voice mailbox. If calling after hours, or when we are away from the phone, 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 pandemic era. 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