Health and Safety on Study Abroad Program in Cuba
As of November 15, 2021, AUSM is resuming study abroad programs in Cuba after canceling all programs since Spring 2020 due to the COVID pandemic.
As of November 15, 2021, Cuba is open to international visitors who are fully vaccinated and who can provide proof of a negative COVID test within 72 hours before the flight. As of the end of January 2022, more than 90% of the Cuban population is fully vaccinated. The entire population will be vaccinated by Spring using vaccines invented and produced by the world-renowned Cuban medical system. The vaccines are already widespread in Latin America, Africa, and Asia. Formal approval by the World Health Organization is expected shortly. Cuba will likely be the first country in the world to achieve full vaccination.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently rates Cuba at Level 3: “avoid non-essential travel.” As of February 8, 2022, Cuba reports:
- 1,445 new infections per day and declining
- 8,443 COVID-related deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, from a population of 11 million.
By comparison, the US reports:
- 254,107 new infections per day and declining
- 908,437 COVID-related deaths since the beginning of the pandemic, from a population of 330 million
Below you will find some of the changes that we have made for our 2022 programs:
- Home-stays | All home-stay families are fully vaccinated. Our home-stays have agreed to house students for our program. They have developed protocols to keep their homes safe, including: taking shoes off before entering, washing hands with soap and water when arriving home, showering after visiting a shopping center, work or school, not allowing visitors who are not part of a defined family pod, disinfecting and cleaning the house daily, and following social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines. Students must abide by these guidelines in order to participate in the program.
- University Setting | Students will continue to have classes at the University of Pedagogical Sciences. The University has provided a classroom that is only used for the program and a restroom only used by students and staff participating in our program. We will be disinfecting the classroom and bathroom twice a day to minimize contamination. Students will not be allowed to bring visitors into these spaces.
- Transportation | The program will provide transportation for all activities. Students will not be allowed to travel through the city on public transportation. The program will organize visits to the city that have been left to students’ own exploration in the past.
- Activities | We anticipate being able to visit most of the spaces that we have in the past, such as community centers, gardens, projects, schools, historical sites, and some museums. The weather in Cuba will allow these activities to be outside and enable us to maintain distance from our hosts. We will be removing visits to cinemas, museums, dance rooms, and other enclosed spaces and could pose a risk of infection. Students will have planned activities on the weekends to minimize free time.
COVID Testing and Symptoms
Students may be tested for COVID at the airport on their arrival to Cuba as part of mandatory random testing. If students present symptoms, they will be taken to the Cira García Hospital (4.5km from the home-stay community) for testing and treatment. Students will either quarantine at the hospital or an apartment in their home-stay community. Students will need to be prepared to isolate themselves at the apartment or the hospital if they become ill with COVID. In case of infection, the program will make provisions for students to maintain their studies in isolation.
AUSM will continue to monitor the situation in Cuba and will communicate all changes to prospective students.
Health and Safety
The health and safety of Study Abroad participants is the highest priority for AUSM. Staff works closely with local partners to assess current health concerns and safety issues, and we adapt quickly to changing political conditions and unfolding events.
In general, Cuba is considered one of the safest countries in the world. Violent crimes are rare. The most common crimes confronted by students involve pickpocketing. Cuba also has one of the most developed and accessible healthcare systems on the planet. There is one doctor for every 400 Cubans, and through obligatory insurance coverage, study abroad students enjoy access to world-class medical attention. Nevertheless, we live by the adage “hope for the best and plan for the worst.” We take the safety of our students very seriously, and our record over the past 13 years is evidence – no deaths and no serious injuries.
Our health and safety protocol begins with home-stay families. Our families are members of a cooperative dedicated exclusively to hosting AUSM students. They receive training in health and safety practices specific to visiting US students.
The most common health care problems involve “Turismo,” a common digestive reaction to strange foods and bacteria. In most cases, diarrhea, upset stomach, and/or vomiting are the most severe symptoms, and they generally pass within 24 to 48 hours. While it is unusual for students visiting Cuba for the first time to avoid a bout of Turismo, it is often the case that one episode will “vaccinate” students against similar experiences. Pepto Bismol is generally the recommended treatment. Students should avoid tap water and street foods, which are generally the cause of Turismo. Students should also wash their hands with soap and water several times a day.
In case of more serious illness, the health care protocol starts with a visit to the family doctor, generally located within four blocks of the home-stay. More serious cases are referred to the neighborhood clinic, and the most serious cases are referred to a regional hospital or specialty care center. Homestay family members and/or staff always accompany students in any health crisis. In any crisis that escalates to a hospital, US families are notified immediately, no matter the time of day. In cases that end in a neighborhood clinic or with the family doctor, US families are notified by the student.
Sexual assault is very rare in Cuba. In the unlikely case of sexual assault, staff provides immediate counseling. Unless the victim exhibits serious physical injuries or an uncontrollable psychological reaction, the care protocol options are discussed with the victim regarding her/his preferences for police intervention and the extent of medical attention. Post-event counseling and housing are guided by the victim’s desires. By US law, sexual assaults are immediately reported to the student’s home institution.
Cuba is in the middle of the Caribbean and is occasionally subject to hurricanes. Safety protocols on the island are very well-designed and implementation is usually flawless in the sense that hurricane-related deaths are unusual. Students’ home-stays are located more than a mile inland and are not subject to high waves or flooding. In the case of a hurricane, students follow neighborhood protocols established by the local and national government and are instructed to carefully follow the lead of staff and/or home-stay families.
In the unlikely case of political violence or an extreme natural disaster, home-stays are located 15 minutes from the international airport in Havana. The Universidad de Ciencias Pedagogicas has its transportation and is a State institution, which means quick access to government authorities who can arrange for emergency evacuation.
Student schedules are chock-full of academic classes, Spanish instruction, meetings with Cuban organizations and institutions, and visits to museums and cultural sites, leaving little time to engage in risky behavior. But some students will occasionally find time to get into trouble. Excessive alcohol consumption is the greatest risk factor in most study abroad programs, and Cuba is no exception. Students are not only responsible to themselves, but also to their home communities, their home-stay families, AUSM, and the Universidad de Ciencias Pedagogicas. We strictly prohibit excessive alcohol consumption or the use of any illegal drugs (which are almost impossible to find in Cuba in any case). Cases of excessive alcohol consumption are dealt with by a warning the first time and expulsion from the program without the possibility of any refund of program fees the second time.
Should you have any questions about safety, health, or crisis management, please call our office at 773 583 7728.