March 4, 2020
WASHINGTON – The following is an open letter to Peace Corps volunteers from Director Jody Olsen.
As you are aware, the number of countries that are reporting confirmed cases of the COVID-19 virus continues to grow. We currently have 11 Peace Corps countries with reported cases and the expectation is that the list will grow. There is a lot of media attention being given to the virus and how countries across the globe are responding to it. These variations in responses have had a direct impact on many of you. And I want to thank you for your patience as we continue to implement measures that we believe will help keep Volunteers and staff safe. It is in this spirit that I want to share with you some of the steps that the Peace Corps has taken over the past 8 weeks to prepare for, and respond to, COVID-19.
In January, I ordered the formation of a COVID-19 working group comprised of representatives from the offices of Health Services, Safety and Security, Transportation, Global Operations, Regions, and Management. This group meets on a daily basis to review updates from the field and maintains regular communications with Country Directors, the Department of State, the World Health Organization (WHO), and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The group develops and disseminates guidance and makes recommendations to senior management on strategies to reduce risks domestically and abroad.
Each Peace Corps post has developed a response plan for the virus based on guidance from the working group. The response plan outlines the steps that posts will take if/when there are confirmed cases in a particular country. The plans have been submitted to headquarters for review. These plans are based on the posts’ Emergency Action Plans (EAPs) and utilize the same communication and response procedures that you were trained on during pre-service training (PST).
The agency has developed relevant factors or decision points to monitor developments at each post. These decision points are based on potential scenarios that, if met, call for key staff to quickly assemble and analyze developments on the ground and determine if there is a need to alter a post’s operations or protocols. Decision points have been tailored to each post and address key questions including, but not limited to, the following:
- Are we seeing sustained local transmission?
- Do we suspect the government may restrict travel and movement?
- Do local medical providers have the ability to manage and treat suspected and confirmed cases?
- If there are numerous cases at post can Volunteers access other medical services without risking infection?
- Do we have reason to suspect we may lose our ability to medevac Volunteers out of country?
- Do we suspect the government may shut down schools, public offices and/or business?
Travel restrictions* on all non-essential travel have been put in place for staff and Volunteers to areas that may pose a higher risk of exposure or may inhibit the ability to re-enter the country of assignment. The list of restricted countries is constantly monitored and reviewed by the working group.
We want you to know we are committed to doing everything possible to help you carry out your service. Your health and safety are our primary concerns. We will continue to implement measures and strategies to protect Volunteers, staff, and the communities we serve. Your Country Director and Peace Corps Medical Officer (PCMO) are available to address any questions or concerns you may have.
Thank you for your commitment and service.
*Restricted countries for non-essential travel include: Cambodia, Indonesia, Philippines, Kyrgyz Republic, Nepal, Mongolia, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Sri Lanka, India, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, Myanmar, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Taiwan, Laos, Vietnam, Bhutan, Brunei, and Italy.