Planning and Executing Mission Travel During a Pandemic

While the world’s travelers may have been looking forward to the wake of surf on a warm and sandy beach, the COVID-19 pandemic left a wake missed trips. With lost travel came countless never-made memories and lost opportunities to experience new cultures, try new foods and see amazing sites. Globally, travelers’ plans were put on hold as the virus spread making it both more difficult and more dangerous to go to new places by air, sea and land.

Some travels did not stop, plans were simply altered or put off for later. For me, I chose to embrace what I could, combining safety precautions with a healthy dose of respecting the virus while not completely overreacting or applying cancel culture to my travel schedule.

During the pandemic throughout 2020, I travelled across the United States – from Arizona to Texas to Florida multiple times. I always felt completely safe though I always played it safe by wearing a mask, social distancing, washing hands often and using sanitizer. Every part of the travel industry, from the airlines to the hotels to the car rental companies I used, did their best to care for my safety and that of my family.

While not all of my travel plans were cancelled, many were. In fact, five mission trips were postponed due to limits on International travel or high COVID rates in the destination location. I did, however, get to take two International trips in 2020, one to Mexico and one to Jamaica.

In looking back at the Jamaica mission trip, it would be an understatement to say it was logistically challenging. A big thanks to Terri Rickard with Southwestern Travel Group for helping me navigate the new challenges. For starters, Jamaica was letting tourists come to the country, but several rules were put in place due to COVID. The first was, if you are a resident of the USA, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Mexico or Panama, you must have a negative COVID test 10 days prior to landing. And not just a negative test result, it had to be a COVID-19 PCR or Antigen test from a lab designated as Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) registered or ISO-15189 certified. This was not too difficult of a task, however nine of the ten mission team members were in Mexico on an incentive trip during the required time frame. We had to find a lab that met the qualifications. Once we did this, we took our own little incentive trip and had our blood drawn. We have the results in less than 24 hours.

The next step was to apply for a Jamaican-approved travel authorization. This is more easily said than done. Using myself as the guinea pig to figure it out, it took me around 45 minutes. The online form wanted to make sure we could provide a private residence we would be staying at, the duration of the trip, the reason, it asked a few health questions, etc. Once I knew my way around the form, I had to locate all nine team members (one who was in the States still) and fill out the form with them, sending them there permission to enter the company so they could print to present to the airline during the boarding process. This process took 10 minutes after I knew what I was doing.

For the flight to Jamaica, all the usual precautions were taken such as required mask-wearing and temperature checks. Upon arrival, more temperature checks and a questionnaire about whether we had symptoms were one of several check points.

Jamaica also required quarantining. When picked up at the airport, we went straight to the location we would call home for the next eight days – Jamaican Deaf Village in Shooters Hill, Manchester Parrish. This beautiful, green 100-acre property dwells within the interior mountains of the island nation. If you must be quarantined to one location, this one would be my choice any day. While the missions team did not to see much of the country other than the two hour drive from the airport and back, nor were we able to go on an excursion to experience more of the culture, we were all ok with that. Everyone understood the purpose of the trip was service and personal and spiritual growth. This was not voluntourism, but rather a chance to do something impactful during a time when a virus was suppressing life as we all had known it to be.

Each team member came away from the trip with not only a renewed perspective for the Jamaican people and deaf culture, but also for being able to problem-solve through restrictive travel rules and engage with a people who had not seen any visitors for nine months – which is nothing compared to not hearing for a lifetime.

As I found out, people fall on two sides: those who would agree this trip (during a pandemic) was necessary… and those who would not. I don’t think traveling like we did during the pandemic was at all necessary, but I do know that delivering hope and love to an underserved people or population knows no borders and does require a certain amount of risk. I, for one, am glad all the planning and execution of pandemic travel worked in our favor and everyone remained healthy and safe. It’s an experience none of us will forget.

Author: TREY CAMPBELL, APR

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