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UPDATE: Travel protocols in Alaska for Arctic fieldwork


July 20, 2021

This announcement updates the travel protocols in Alaska for researchers receiving support through NSF’s research support contractor, Battelle Arctic Research Operators (Battelle ARO). The Office of Polar Programs (OPP) Arctic Sciences Section is implementing reduced quarantine durations in Alaska (as described below) to mitigate risk while recognizing the removal of state-mandated travel restrictions in Alaska. If any COVID-19 cases are observed with this revised protocol, then OPP will revert to the longer quarantine times that were in use since 2020.

The goals of the Arctic Sciences Section remain to protect the health of program participants and prevent the spread of COVID-19 to the Arctic, particularly to communities and research stations, while assisting researchers in meeting their original project goals to the extent possible given constraints imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Arctic Sciences Section continues to utilize the science-based public health guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and respect local and tribal concerns about researcher travel near communities in the Arctic.

Travel protocols in Greenland remain unchanged.

Travel Protocol Updates for Alaska Deployments

Alaska
The State of Alaska website has up-to-date information for travelers. Given the continued presence of COVID-19 in the general population and varying vaccination rates across the U.S., to mitigate risks of introducing the disease to research stations or communities, travelers must continue to undergo testing, quarantine, wear masks indoors, and socially distance.

Toolik Field Station
Leadership at the University of Alaska's Institute for Arctic Biology, who manage and oversee operations at Toolik Field Station (TFS), worked with the OPP Arctic Sciences Section and Battelle-ARO to develop protocols that enable the station to support approximately 100 people at peak population during the summer of 2021.

The quarantine duration in Fairbanks is reduced from 14 days to 10 days. COVID-19 PCR testing on days five (5) and seven (7) must occur with negative results prior to travel to the station.

Utqiaġvik (formerly Barrow)
Researchers in Utqiaġvik live in communal housing at the Ukpik II dormitory, therefore quarantine and testing are necessary to prevent the introduction of COVID-19 to the buildings where researchers stay, or to the community at large.

Quarantine duration in Utqiaġvik is reduced from 10 days to eight (8) days, along with a negative result from PCR testing on day five (5).

Travelers unable to get to Utqiagvik in one day of air travel will quarantine in Fairbanks for seven (7) days with testing on day five (5) followed by an additional five (5) days of quarantine in Utqiaġvik with one additional test.

Atqasuk
Because of the potential to contract COVID-19 during travel from Utqiaġvik to Atqasuk, an additional quarantine and testing period is required upon arrival in Atqasuk.

Prudhoe Bay/Deadhorse
Prudhoe Bay/Deadhorse is operated by Hilcorp, Inc. which has implemented protocols for vaccinated individuals. Researchers working only in Prudhoe Bay/Deadhorse may arrange with their institution to provide NSF with a letter from a designated institutional official with the authority to review the project protective plan and accept the risk of following the protocols put in place by Hilcorp Inc., Contact Frank Rack to discuss these arrangements at frack@nsf.gov.

Other Field Locations in Alaska
Travelers will quarantine in Fairbanks for eight (8) days with testing on day five (5) and a negative result returned prior to heading into the field. Travel must comply with all applicable travel restrictions. Prior arrangements and permission of the communities is required if traveling in or near Alaskan communities. Additional quarantine and testing may be required in remote communities.

Vaccination Status and Travel for Fieldwork
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed dramatically in the U.S. as vaccines became widely available under an Emergency Use Authorization. The Arctic Sciences Section encourages people to be vaccinated against COVID-19. NSF cannot require program participants to be vaccinated until such time as a vaccine is approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The Arctic Sciences Section is developing a process to collect information on vaccination status on a voluntary basis that remains compliant with existing laws protecting medical information. When practical, the Arctic Sciences Section will work to modify travel protocols to account for vaccination status of program participants using the information available on transmission, infection, vaccination rates, and other factors.

Responsible Conduct of Fieldwork During the COVID-19 Pandemic
All researchers must comply with travel restrictions imposed by their institution and any federal/national, state, regional, local, and tribal governments. Researchers must also follow the COVID-19 mitigation protocols developed by the Arctic Sciences Section in collaboration with medical experts and other stakeholders. COVID-19 rates of infection are reduced at present but are not zero. The conservative approach of the OPP Arctic Sciences Section ensures the continuity of fieldwork for all researchers.

Research team members are responsible for their own medical care and medical evacuation costs in the event they test positive for COVID-19 or become ill during travel. Medical evacuation insurance for planned fieldwork is an allowable grant cost.

Some aspects of fieldwork might be accomplished remotely in collaboration with people who can service instrumentation, collect samples, or collaborate in other ways. For example, on-site staff are available at Toolik Field Station and Utqiaġvik, Alaska, to support a limited amount of fieldwork.

We encourage researchers to reach out to their program officer and the regional contact for their fieldwork to discuss plans or the implications of delaying fieldwork. For work in Alaska or on ships, contact Frank Rack (frack@nsf.gov), and for other international projects, contact Renee Crain (rcrain@nsf.gov). Please also consult the website for the Arctic support contractor Battelle Arctic Research Operations or contact them at arctic.planners@battelle.org.

The U.S. National Science Foundation propels the nation forward by advancing fundamental research in all fields of science and engineering. NSF supports research and people by providing facilities, instruments and funding to support their ingenuity and sustain the U.S. as a global leader in research and innovation. With a fiscal year 2021 budget of $8.5 billion, NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and institutions. Each year, NSF receives more than 40,000 competitive proposals and makes about 11,000 new awards. Those awards include support for cooperative research with industry, Arctic and Antarctic research and operations, and U.S. participation in international scientific efforts.

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