What measures has Mercy Ships taken to mitigate risks of infection for crew and patients?
- Institution of quarantine and contact restrictions upon arrival
- Mandatory COVID testing upon arrival, and further surveillance testing as needed
- Mandatory facemask policy and social distancing for both crew, patients, and their caregivers
- Reduction of crew per cabin (maximum of four)
- Limiting or prohibiting guests onboard and at programmatic locations ashore
- Reduction in number of planned surgeries and programmatic output for Senegal field service
- Addition of an Infection Preventionist onboard
Will I have to quarantine upon arrival?
Yes, Quarantine is required for all arriving crew, even if they have previously received the COVID vaccine.
Crew arriving in Spain will likely quarantine onboard in their cabins for fourteen days, during which time a “buddy” is assigned to collect and deliver meals to the new crewmember’s cabin. After seven days, our crew clinic will administer a COVID test.
- If negative, the crewmember completes the remainder of the fourteen days with contact restrictions – meaning they are allowed to work, exercise, and collect their meals from the dining room, but are not able to attend social events, meetings, etc. onboard. The crew clinic will continue monitoring temperature and symptoms (or lack thereof) during this time.
- If positive, the crewmember will remain in complete quarantine until symptoms are absent, and a negative test can be presented.
Crew arriving in Senegal will quarantine in a local hotel for seven days. Details of the hotel and what to expect during these seven days will be added once the hotel is identified by our team in Senegal. All details will be arranged by Mercy Ships and any expenses associated with this quarantine will be paid for by Mercy Ships.
Will I have to wear a facemask?
Yes, all crew are required to wear a facemask at all times unless inside their own cabin, or sitting down to eat a meal. Masks can also be removed if the crewmember is in an office space alone, with the door closed.
Patients and their caregivers will be required to wear facemasks as well.
Are facemasks provided? If not, how many should I bring?
Mercy Ships does not provide facemasks to crew, with the exception of one-use surgical facemasks for the medical teams to be worn during the performance of their duties.
Crew should bring at least seven, 2+ layered facemasks that are washable.
Will I have to socially distance from other crew?
Yes, crew are encouraged to maintain a physical distance of 2 meters from other crewmembers who are outside of their cabin group (those who share a cabin with you!). To accommodate physical distancing while not compromising attendance and access, we’ve begun streaming our regular crew meetings to cabins and public areas on board if there is not enough space in the conference room or meeting lounge.
Is the COVID vaccine required before joining?
We certainly encourage volunteers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 before joining if they are able. However, the vaccine will not be required until it is more widely available across the globe.
Is there COVID testing offered onboard?
Currently, we are able to take test samples that are then sent to a local lab for results. However, we will have the capability for full-cycle testing in Senegal.
Tests are administered upon a volunteer’s arrival, intermittently and as needed for surveillance testing, and before a volunteer departs (as this is often a requirement to travel home!).
What happens if a crewmember gets COVID while onboard, and where would they be treated?
Any COVID-positive crew will be placed in a designated quarantine cabin for a minimum of ten days and will be monitored by our crew clinic team. If someone develops an infection requiring hospitalization, we plan to treat our crew onboard unless their condition requires care that would be better served in a local institution. We are very confident of the capacity and level of care of the facilities in Dakar, should they be needed.
Additionally, the crewmember’s cabin mates and any other close contacts will be placed in quarantine for 7-14 days, and would be tested and monitored during that time. If there was evidence of significant community transmission onboard, additional mitigation measures would be put in place.
Does the Evacuation and Repatriation (E&R) insurance provided by Mercy Ships cover me if I am sick with COVID?
All crew are automatically enrolled in an evacuation and repatriation insurance policy through Talent Trust Consultants (TTc). Coverage for evacuation or repatriation due to COVID is included and covered in this policy. However, medical E&R is still subject to the governing travel regulations for any given country – meaning a COVID-positive patient can only be evacuated to a country that is allowing entry to COVID-positive travelers.
Does Mercy Ships offer any incentives for volunteers coming in 2021?
We know the last 12+ months has been challenging for many, and flying across the world to volunteer may be more difficult than usual! To reduce a few barriers for volunteers this year, Mercy Ships is pleased to offer assistance with both crew fees and flights.
- Africa Mercy crew fees are waived through the end of June 2021 for all volunteers.
- Mercy Ships offers to cover any flight expenses for volunteers joining the Africa Mercy between 01 February and 30 June 2021. The volunteer must make a commitment of four weeks or more in order to qualify.
What COVID-related expenses does Mercy Ships cover for volunteers?
Mercy Ships covers:
- Quarantine expenses in a local Dakar hotel upon arrival
- Any testing expenses incurred once onboard
Mercy Ships does not cover:
- pre-service testing expenses
- post-service quarantine expenses*
- vaccination expenses
*Mercy Ships will not cover those costs, however, there may be support available from the local Mercy Ships offices to cover these expenses for citizens & residents from their countries.
Can I go off the ship for fun? If so, where?
For crew serving in Spain, unfortunately, our shore leave is extremely limited, and some crew are not permitted shore leave at all.
For crew serving in Senegal, crew will have shore leave; however, this will be limited, and subject to change as leadership monitors the local infection rates. In general, these carefully considered locations would not be crowded and represent minimal health and/or safety risks.
How much interaction is there with the local population while in Senegal?
Normally, our crew have plenty of opportunities to interact with the local population of our host country. Of course, this is not a normal year! Here’s how it may be limited in Senegal:
- Day Crew – Mercy Ships typically employs roughly 200 local professionals to come alongside us while in field service, doing numerous different things – translation, cooking, transportation – you name it. We couldn’t do what we do without these dedicated “Day Crew”. We do plan to hire Day Crew in Senegal; however, we plan to utilize fewer than we would normally.
The Day Crew will be performing their typical key functions, and will be managed by each team as usual. However, we will try to reduce interactions between Day Crew and crew while in Senegal. There will be intermittent COVID-19 testing for our Day Crew.
Any Day Crew that have contracted or have been directly exposed to COVID-19 will be quarantined in their homes until a negative COVID-19 test can be presented. Any crew identified in subsequent contact tracing will also be informed and quarantined.
- via Mercy Ministries – our Mercy Ministries programs allow crew to become involved with initiatives ashore alongside local partners. There will be no Mercy Ministries as in this field service as we need to minimize the contact between the local community and our crew. While we want our crew to be engaged in the local communities, our primary goal is the health and safety of our crew, patients, and the population we serve. While opportunities ashore are restricted, we will monitor the local situation and present crew with safe options for community engagement.
- Patient visitations – Access to the hospital wards and our HOPE Center is likely to be restricted to official business in these areas, but will be adjusted based on the changing COVID-19 situation and the level of crew vaccination.
- General shore leave / local interaction – crew will have shore leave; however, this will be limited, and subject to change as leadership monitors the local infection rates. In general, these carefully considered locations would not be crowded and represent minimal health and/or safety risks.
How often does Mercy Ships review their COVID protocols and plans to keep crew and patients safe?
Mercy Ships leadership reviews the protocols, regulations, and guidelines every day. We stay on top of any changes – be it infection rates, international travel issues, guidance from WHO and other trusted organizations, and closer to “home” – what’s going on onboard! We weigh each decision and change carefully. Our commitment to keeping our crew and patients safe and healthy is the driving force of all decisions.
Where can I read more about the specific protocols Mercy Ships has developed to protect crew and patients from COVID-19?
After volunteers have received their official offer letters to join, they will be granted access to Navigator, our organizational intranet. All protocols and very detailed information can be found there. Additionally, all volunteers are required to sign a COVID Acknowledgment Form to confirm they understand the protocols, regulations, testing requirements, and risks associated with volunteering during this season.