A Northern Humboldt Unified High School District trip to Europe has been derailed by COVID-19 outbreaks, leaving some students in locked quarantine facilities overseas and parents scrambling for information amid mounting frustration.
“It’s a fucking nightmare,” said Rae Robison, whose son, an Arcata High School student, is on a trip and is currently being held in a hotel that has been converted into an Italian government-run quarantine center in Rome. .
According to Robison and other parents, the trip, planned by educational travel company EF Tours, included 68 students in AP Europe classes from several schools and about 10 chaperones, and took place during the schools’ spring break. The group landed around 11 a.m. on April 12 in London, where they spent three days, before moving on to France and then Italy for three days.
According to parents’ Facebook posts and interviews with the Logsome students quickly began experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.
“Immediately after arriving in London the children were ill – runny noses, sore throats – and a chaperone was coughing,” said Angelina Torres, whose 17-year-old daughter, a student at Arcata High School, is on the trip. She added that as students became increasingly symptomatic in the days that followed, some expressed concern but were told they were likely battling jet lag and adjusting. to a new climate.
As the group left France, Torres said the students were asking for COVID-19 tests.
“Kids were asking to be tested because they were so damn sick,” she said.
Northern Humboldt Unified School District Superintendent Roger Macdonald said the district sent two or three rapid COVID-19 tests per student for the trip, which the district thought was “probably enough” but, in retrospect, maybe be not. That said, Macdonald said he was “not aware of anyone asking for a test and not taking a test.”
During the first leg in Italy – Milan – students and chaperones were offered COVID-19 tests, although Torres said no one – including people with symptoms – was required to take them. Robison said about 10 students and two chaperones tested positive, including her son’s roommate. Those who tested negative or did not test – including close contacts of those who tested positive, such as Robison’s son – were not required to quarantine and continued to travel.
Torres said she believed COVID-19 protocols — like EF Tours’ promises to keep students masked during transport — weren’t being followed.
“None of the protocols they told us would be in place when we sent our kids on this trip were really followed,” Robison said.
While Robison’s son initially tested negative, she said he started feeling symptomatic the next day and asked to be tested again, but was told no further testing was available. The decision was made – it is unclear whether by local staff acting as chaperones or EF Tours – to leave the COVID-positive students in Milan with chaperones while the rest of the group continued on to Rome. Once there, Robison said another 10 to 12 students tested positive, including his son. Those who tested negative – including close contacts – were allowed to resume travel plans and toured the Vatican before boarding return flights.
The group of students and chaperones who tested positive were, however, not allowed to stay at the hotel EF Tours had booked them and were instead transferred to the government facility. A chaperone who emailed parents described the group being greeted by military police and their jeep, prompting them to realize that “this was not going to be the quarantine we expected”. According to the escort, school protocols are strict and students are not allowed to leave their rooms.
Torres said she was worried about her isolated daughter’s mental health.
“The first two days, she just cried nonstop, saying, ‘Mom, I want to go home. I want to go home,” Torres said, adding that during a call she heard a “boy shouting in the background, ‘Let me out, let me out.’ She said: “It’s their mental and emotional health that I’m worried about. It’s so traumatic. Our kids are going to need some counseling about this.
The district has made school counselors available to students via videoconference, according to Superintendent Roger Macdonald.
The group in Rome will be there at least until April 26, when they will be re-tested. Those who test negative will be released, while those who test positive will be held longer in the facility, although the length of time is unclear.
Parents said they hope students will then be tested daily and released as soon as they test negative, but some fear they may have to wait another week to be tested again. The district and the parents have been in contact with the office of North Coast Congressman Jared Huffman, who has engaged the Italian government on the matter.
In Milan, meanwhile, all the students and the accompanying person who had tested positive for Covid tested negative this morning, except for two. Those who tested negative are making arrangements to return home, while the two students who still test positive will stay there with a parent and retest daily.
While Macdonald said the district had worked hard to keep parents informed — with chaperones sending daily updates and the district now sending regular briefings to families — some parents said it was difficult and frustrating to try. to get information about their students and their future plans.
“We don’t know what’s going on,” Robison said, explaining that it had been difficult to get information from his son’s school, the district, EF Tours or anyone else, adding that the parents of three infected students had become so frustrated and worried that they flew to Italy themselves.
Macdonald said the district’s current goal is to get everyone home healthy and safe, and to make them as comfortable as possible in the meantime, but said the district will conduct a full review to determine what more could have been done to keep children safe on the trip. He added, however, that he believed the travel team had followed all local COVID-19 protocols at all times and that the district required all students to be fully vaccinated.
“But obviously in hindsight the kids got sick, so we’re going to wonder what more we could have done,” he said.
EF Tours spokesman Terence Burke said the company was working to help students and their families, sending an additional tour director to provide additional support and offering to fly students’ parents to Rome for be there with their children.
Meanwhile, some parents think things are only getting worse, as Torres said her daughter and two other students woke up this morning with little red bedbug bites everywhere. She said the centre’s response was to move them to another room, saying their things would be washed and returned tomorrow.
Elisa Miller, whose daughter attends Arcata High School and turned 16 on the trip, said she was sometimes frustrated with the flow of information and what appear to be conflicting protocols that allowed close contact with positive cases. to continue traveling only to later implement an incredibly strict lockdown of positive cases in Rome. She thinks EF Tours should have gotten better at local COVID protocols. But she said she was largely fine until news of the bedbugs arrived.
“In a way, students are detained,” she said. “They are forced to eat the food we give them. And now they are being asked to stay in a place where there are bed bugs? I have a problem with that.
Torres said she hopes the local community will help advocate for the quick and safe return of students, urging residents to call the office of Huffman (407-3585) and Macdonald (839-6481), and contact the embassy. United States in Rome (www .it.usembassy.gov, +39-06-46741).
“I really hope the community will come together for our children,” she said.
See the full statement from EF Tours copied below.
EF Educational Travel Declaration
The safety of the students and teachers traveling with us is always our top priority, as is their comfort. We can confirm that a tour group from Arcata High School is under quarantine in Rome, Italy after several travelers tested positive for COVID-19. We are doing all we can to support the group as they complete their quarantine in accordance with local guidelines, including investigating concerns related to the government-run quarantine hotel in which the group is self-isolating.
We’ve sent an additional EF tour manager to support the band’s sidekicks, who haven’t tested positive; and we offered to fly the students’ parents to Rome to be with the group. One parent is now on hand to provide additional support and a second is on the way.
We were unable to obtain approval from the Italian government to inspect the accommodation conditions; however, our tour managers have arranged for the band to move to new rooms within the quarantine hotel. Tour directors also support tour leaders to ensure the group has extra food and their needs are met. Despite Italian COVID regulations limiting group transfer to a new hotel, we are continuing to work with officials in Italy to see if a transfer is feasible.
Our EF COVID Care Promise program provides comprehensive assistance to every travel group in the event of a pandemic-related travel disruption. The program provides accommodation and meals, in-person representation and coordination with local authorities, translation services, changing flight reservations and facilitating communication between the group and their families and the school at home, if needed – all at no additional cost to the traveler. and throughout the extended duration of the trip.