We are fortunate to have continued to operate throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Entry into Thailand is constantly changing, and rules and regulations are also in flux. However, with ISDSI staff involved in public health as well as the collaboration with the outstanding Thai public health officials, we have been able to continue to provide experiential learning opportunities each semester.
PLEASE NOTE: STUDENTS MUST BE FULLY VACCINATED TO PARTICIPATE IN ALL ISDSI PROGRAMS
Update on COVID-19 in Thailand
April 19, 2020 Update: Thailand is seeing a reduction in the number of cases after the last few weeks, and has been upgraded from CDC level 4 to CDC level 3. We expect that over the next few months the numbers may increase and decrease again, with further waves of Covid and associated variants. We will not be updating this page as much going forward unless there are significant changes to the Covid situation in Thailand and/or globally.
February 4, 2022 Update: Thailand is holding steady with relatively low Covid cases per capita, and daily variation in numbers. Vaccination rates as well as boosters continue to increase, and other public health measures, (masking, track/trace/isolate, etc.) continue to be in force.
December 6, 2021 Update: Thailand continues to see a decline in Covid cases, and has been reclassified by the CDC as a Level 3 country.
Numbers in Chiang Mai are also on the decline. Vaccinations are widely available in Chiang Mai and other targeted provinces, and vaccination rates continue to increase.
Widespread rapid tests and universal masking remain the norm, while the government works with restaurants, malls, and other venues to increase ventilation and Covid safe protocols.
While the new variant (Omicron) remains a concern, our programs are still operating with alternate plans/locations for all of our courses.
August 10, 2021 Update: As expected Thailand has been moved to CDC Level 4. Numbers in Chiang Mai remain low, with effective track/trace/isolate. Numbers are stable or declining in Bangkok for now, with wide-spread vaccinations in Bangkok.
Vaccinations in Chiang Mai are rolling out with an aggressive and targeted vaccination campaign.
By the time our students arrive in Chiang Mai after quarantine in Bangkok, we are hoping to have all ISDSI staff vaccinated against COVID-19.
July 2021 Update: Like many countries, Thailand is seeing a resurgence of COVID-19 due in part to the Delta variant. This is primarily concentrated in Bangkok and surrounding provinces, but with smaller numbers throughout the country.
Chiang Mai still has relatively small numbers, allowing them to track/trace/isolate.
As numbers increase, Thailand may move to a CDC Level 4 for awhile. Thai CDC and WHO modeling expects infection rates to continue to climb for a few weeks before heading down again.
Thailand initially had a very slow roll out of vaccinations, but is now targeting their limited supply to provinces with high rates of COVID (like Bangkok) as well as provinces that are dependent on tourism for their economies. This “sandbox” model controls travel in/out of the targeted province, and aims for 70% of the population vaccinated before opening to vaccinated travelers.
Phuket started this in July. They have added Koh Samui already, and will be adding Pang Nga and Krabi. Chiang Mai is one of the next ones to be targeted, which means focused vaccinations of the population in Chiang Mai so that they can open to vaccinated travelers.
Chiang Mai has announced that it will start vaccinating vulnerable groups and people aged 70+ on July 30. As elsewhere, they will move down age cohorts as they progress.
April 2021 Update: Starting in April Thailand has experienced a “third wave” of COVID-19, initially starting in two districts in Bangkok, but then spreading throughout the country.
Thailand implemented policies to help contain the spread, including closing nightclubs and bars (where people gather in unventilated spaces unmasked), as well as other policies — avoiding unnecessary travel between provinces, as well as continuing to track-trace-isolate, and in particular isolating everyone who tests positive for COVID-19 in hospitals for symptomatic patients, and in field hospitals for asymptotic people.
Responding to this, ISDSI has continued to communicate with local government and public health authorities, and modify courses as necessary, while still maintaining the academic integrity of our programs.
During our final course of the semester, we have worked with local leaders in provinces in Southern Thailand, including testing all students and staff for COVID before travel, daily check-ins with local health volunteers, and modifying our schedule to focus on socially distanced guest speakers (in outdoor settings) as well as the regular outdoor experiential learning in the mangroves, sea grasses, and reefs of the course.
January 2021 Update: In December, 2020, Thailand had a second wave of COVID-19, with an outbreak in and around a market and seafood processing facility in Samut Sakhon, primarily among migrant workers. The Thai authorities implemented a rapid response, including extensive track – trace – test, as well as selective COVID control measures province by province (see https://www.tatnews.org for details). Ongoing COVID control measures are helping to slow the spread of COVID, with ongoing monitoring of hot spots and tracking of contacts. Updates are available online at the Thai Department of Disease Control.
At this point we are still running our programs in-person, with minimal disruption to our in-person study abroad programs.
INITIAL RESPONSE TO COVID-19
In response to COVID-19, ISDSI quickly adjusted our programs with the guidance of local public health and epidemiology experts, our medical advisor, government requirements, and the latest scientific research. We hosted two meetings for our wider community in Thai and English with the lead epidemiologist for Chiang Mai province, and continued to consult with him and the provincial authorities as things developed.
As COVID progressed, and evacuation became necessary, we worked closely with our university partners and when our students were recalled by their home institutions, and helped facilitate their safe return (with a care package of N-95 masks and hand sanitizer for the journey).
Initially Thailand suspended all incoming flights and sealed its borders. Later, it allowed a limited number of repatriation flights, and eventually certain categories of visa holders, including Educational (EDU) visas. We talked with the Thai Consulates in the US as well as repatriation airlines and quarantine hotels, did a lot of research and consultations with international and local health and epidemiology professionals, and decided to run a small cohort of students for the Fall 2020 semester.
SEMESTER CHANGES DUE TO COVID-19
COVID-19 required us to modify our programs, and the changes are based on conversations with public health professionals and epidemiologists in Thailand, as well as conversations internally and with community partners. Our goal is to ensure that we can manage the inherent risks in study abroad, keep our students, staff, and partner communities healthy, all while managing the added complexity and unknowns surrounding the current pandemic.
Some of the changes include:
- Visa Process: Though the application process is more complex than in previous semesters, Thailand is allowing Education visa holders to enter the country. An ISDSI staff member will guide students through the visa application process, as well as accompany them through the pre-departure requirements in Los Angeles and accompany them to the airport. (This is a summary. More information is available in our COVID FAQ.)
- COVID Testing: Students will be tested for COVID-19 at several points throughout the semester. The Thai government requires all travelers to be tested for COVID-19 within 72 hours of their repatriation flight. Because the availability and turnaround times for testing vary, we are coordinating testing in Los Angeles prior to the group departing together from LAX. We recommend that students get tested on their own prior to traveling to Los Angeles to lower the likelihood of testing positive in Los Angeles. While in quarantine in Bangkok, students will be tested twice. We will continue to test as recommended by the Thai Ministry of Public Health or as required by our partner communities.
- Quarantine: Students will be quarantined for the length of time required by the Thai government, which is currently two weeks. During this time, students will begin a regular schedule of coursework remotely, including Thai language. These courses will resume in person in Chiang Mai after the quarantine has ended.
- Suspension of Home Stays: Though we would normally provide accommodations through urban and rural home stays, but because of COVID-19 we will shift to guest house accommodations, each student with his/her own room. This allows for physical distancing and puts our community partners at ease.
- Program Adjustments: We are working with community leaders to design program activities that reduce the risk of transmission. Because of the experiential nature of our program, most of our activities are outside and field-based already, which requires little modification.
- COVID Safety Protocols: In line with Thai Ministry of Public Health recommendations, all students will be expected to wear masks when in public and (generally) when on campus. We have strategically adjusted classrooms to allow for physical distancing. Hand sanitizer is provided in all open spaces, and regular hand washing is strongly encouraged. Outside of class, students are discouraged from spending time in crowded spaces or extended time in indoor businesses or restaurants. Our practices are based on Thai government policy as well as emerging best practices and will be adjusted throughout the semester as needed.
Though Thailand does not have the capacity for massive testing like South Korea, the government is doing an excellent job of test-track-isolate. Two of our staff are now working with rapid COVID-19 testing. Thailand is being very careful about loosening restrictions now that we have a sustained low to zero transmission. People are still encouraged to stay at home and work from home if possible, comprehensive temperature screening is practiced in markets and stores, contact tracing apps and websites are being rolled out, and there is close to 100% mask wearing.
Jump to our COVID FAQ for more.
Though domestic transmission of COVID-19 has remained very low for months in Thailand, a second wave is possible. If COVID-19 cases increase and the government reverts to stay-at-home orders, closing businesses, etc., our contingency plan is to pivot to online coursework or a “bubble” model. In the “bubble” model, we would adjust housing for students to allow them to remain in contact with each other while continuing their coursework.
We have had a long working relationship with the United States Consulate in Chiang Mai, and will follow their guidance should evacuation become necessary again.
Please feel free to contact us with additional questions at [email protected].