Most frequent questions and answers
We are proceeding with 2021 program enrollments, which are currently open. Of course, the situation may change at any time, requiring us to adapt. However, we are optimistic that in the coming months vaccines will be much more widely available, and we will be able to have an almost normal field research season.
That said, there will absolutely be enhanced safety requirements, including additional PPE and adjusted field protocols. It is furthermore quite likely that any proven and ubiquitous COVID-19 vaccine available before May 2021 would become a requirement.
If vaccine rollout is slower than expected, there is a chance we might postpone start dates by 2-4 weeks. If the SARS-CoV-2 virus is remains completely out of control before our programs commence, or conditions appear unsafe, we reserve the right to cancel any and all programs. In this case, we would refund participants any fees already paid.
As of February 11th, 2021, the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 tracker estimates that Peru has 1,203,502 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 42,859 deaths. Limited international flights have resumed from the U.S., but face masks and social distancing are mandatory.
To enter and return from the country, a negative result from a nucleic acid amplification test (NAAT) or antigen test is required, and must be taken within 72 hours prior to departing, Travelers must also submit to health screenings at the airport, and an Affidavit of Health and Geolocation Authorization must be signed at Immigration.
The mandatory 14-day quarantine can be done at your final destination, provided you arrive there within 24 hours.
The more we learn about the origins of COVID-19, the more we learn how critical wildlife disease screening is to human health. Animals and humans interact in a broad spectrum of ways, from domestic animals as pets in homes to the bushmeat trade with more exotic wildlife. It is very likely that SARS-CoV-2, the virus that caused this pandemic, originated in a wild animal. However, there has been some uncertainty surrounding exactly when and where this spillover event occurred. The truth is, we may never know – regardless of political interference (if any).
The reason for this is simple: very little monitoring of spillovers occurs at scale anywhere in the world. COVID-19 has demonstrated that it is vital that we expand monitoring systems broadly, to protect both people and wildlife from future epidemics.
Risk with wildlife handling is evaluated on two fronts: How likely is it that an animal is carrying a pathogen with high zoonotic potential (the ability to spillover into humans)? And how likely is it that the animal could be susceptible to spillovers from humans or other taxa?
Recent studies have demonstrated that animals with wide geographic ranges (e.g. domesticates) or wide species richness (e.g. bats) tend to have more likelihoods of carrying pathogens with zoonotic potential. At our site, we evaluate bats, primates, birds, and small mammals (rodents and marsupials). All of these animals could have diseases humans can acquire, and many of them could be susceptible to something as simple as the common cold. COVID-19 has not altered this risk in any way, it has always existed.
Today, we study these groups for precisely this reason: disease monitoring is critical to equipping us with a full knowledge of the range of viral strains and a better understanding of how viruses are exchanged between natural populations. But we do so with safety protocols in place.
We must first define what getting the pandemic under control really means. In an ideal situation, we would eliminate the risk of COVID-19 by vaccinating and testing humans on a global scale, and developing effective medications for those who become ill. Given the dependency of economies on international travel, without a blanket approach, there are bound to be pockets of virus still in existence. However, even if we achieved this outlandish goal, there are reasons to believe it may not work in the long-term.
First, the virus itself can mutate, as viruses do, possibly making treatments become gradually ineffective. Second, the human-wildlife interface is massive. Hundreds of thousands of contact-points occur between humans and animals across the globe. To control COVID-19 would only be controlling a tiny fraction of the viruses out there. But this is NOT cause for panic. All is not lost.
Humans and wildlife have been living in this reality for a long time, even though COVID-19 does bring it into stark relief. The important thing at this juncture is to organize disease screening efforts on a global scale as a normal and essential part of a variety of industries – from farms to hunting, wildlife management to veterinary science. In fact, if we do want to know if COVID-19 is decimating one or more vulnerable species, say those down to the last few hundred individuals in the wild, then we MUST screen them now, using technology and innovation to keep both them and us safe.
Our enhanced protocols in laboratory or wildlife handling situations are designed to meet or exceed scientific best practices. They are drafted in conjunction with our Peruvian partners (Conservacion Amazonica), Peruvian authorities (SERFOR) and Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees (IACUC) of our affiliate research universities. Broadly speaking, they will involve strict use of face shields, N95 masks, and gloves. Participants will receive a detailed procedures pamphlet prior to departing for the field site, and may be required to complete a short online training on our website.
While everyone will have their temperatures taken upon arrival by an infrared thermometer, we strongly suggest that visitors add their own thermometers to the first-aid kits that they bring, and check themselves regularly.
The first signs of suspected symptoms or a temperature above 100 degrees Fahrenheit should be reported immediately to the field station managers and FPI senior scientists. They will have protocols for isolating symptomatic guests, arranging viral testing, notifying those you have been in contact with, and evacuating you to the nearest hospital if necessary. (Note that travel to a hospital and any care there is at your own cost; make sure your insurance policy covers this.)
The nearest healthcare facilities are in Puerto Maldonado, which is approximately 4-5 hours downriver from our field site. In that city, there are private and public healthcare options. The private facilities are more expensive (one of the reasons we require participants to have travel medical insurance), but they will likely be able to treat patients faster if public facilities are full.
The second option would be in Cusco, which is approximately 10 hours by car from Puerto Maldonado. There are more clinics in Cusco than Puerto Maldonado.
The field station’s safety protocols apply to everybody: staff, researchers, guests, and visitors.
For every new person arriving at the field station, the science director will go over the COVID-protocol with them personally and explain to them about the mandatory use of face masks, hand sanitizer, table seating, and social distancing. There are planned spaces equipped for maximum distance between people.
People living or travelling together in a group for more than 14 days can share the same table at the commissary and will be treated as a “grupo de aislamiento,” keeping distance from other guests or groups. Room service and/or separate seating at different tables will be arranged for all others.
The field station also practices “cuarentena laboral.” This means that there are separate working areas, and you will be expected to avoid using workspaces and equipment that is designated for other individuals or groups.