Health and Safety on Study Abroad Program in Cuba
Based on the new global pandemic and the realities of the regions in which we operate, we have decided to delay the start of the Spring 2021 semester in Cuba. Students that participate in the program will have to adhere to new protocols and guidelines to limit the spread of Covid-19. Students will also have to follow guidelines implemented by the communities where they will be participating or visiting.
As of November 2020 the Center for Disease Control and Prevention rates Cuba on Level 4 on their Risk Assessment Level for Covid-19. The Autonomous University of Social Movements is preparing for an in-person program at the end of March and will only do so if the risk Assessment Level drops to Level 3 or below in the Havana area.
Below you will find some of the changes that we have made for our Spring 2021 program:
- Home-stays | Our home-stays have agreed to house students for our program and have developed protocols to keep their homes safe, such as: taking shoes off before entering, washing their hands when arriving home, showering after coming from a shop center, work or school, not allowing people to visit their home, disinfecting and cleaning the house daily, and following social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines. Students will have to follow these guidelines to be able 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 that is 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 in 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 for these activities to be outside and allow us to maintain distance from our hosts. We will be removing visits to cinemas, museums, dance rooms, and other spaces that are enclosed and could pose a risk of infection. Students will have planned activities on the weekends to minimize free time.
COVID Testing and Symptoms
Students will be tested at the airport on their arrival to Cuba and will have to isolate for 2 days in their home-stays until they receive clearance from the health department. If students present symptoms, students 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 at an apartment in their home-stay community. Students will need to be prepared to isolate at the apartment or at the hospital if they become ill with COVID. Students will have a chance to continue their studies if they are able to.
AUSM will continue to monitor the situation in Havana, 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 work 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 old 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 twelve 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 serious 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 bout will “vaccinate” students against similar experiences. Pepto Bysmol 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. Home stay 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 and her/his preferences for police intervention, the extent of medical attention, and 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 subjected 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. Student 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 own 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 single greatest risk factor on most study abroad programs, and Cuba is no exception. Students are not only responsible to themselves, but also to their home communities, their homestay 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.