Three groups of High Mountain Institute Gap students, our largest Gap cohort ever, arrived in Leadville, CO on September 20th, 2020.
Students traveled via both plane and car, and prior to the semester start we encouraged all 36 students to quarantine for two weeks and get a COVID-19 test (and negative result, of course) prior to coming to HMI. Every student and wilderness instructor was COVID tested at the start of the program–the results of which have all since come back negative. Each of the groups stayed in their own site at a local campground, and we were able to spend the vast majority of orientation outside.
Approximately halfway through their first expedition, students and staff received another COVID-19 test on their “re-ration” day. Gap students participated in health checks each morning to to catch early signs of COVID-like symptoms. We creatively adapted CDC-recommended social-distancing guidelines for a wilderness expedition and followed these throughout the first two weeks of the program.
After receiving the results of the third round of testing (again, all negative!) Gap students were able to enter a “pod” with peers on their specific course. Each group celebrated with ceremoniously removing their masks and lots of hugging and excitement! All Gap students will be able to continue to be in close contact with each other unless someone develops symptoms. In this case, we will revert back to the social-distancing structure of our first expedition and monitor the situation with appropriate quarantine and additional testing. For the remainder of the semester, we will continue to socially distance while in the presence of folks “outside of our pod” and will exert conservative judgment in the limited public spaces we enter.
We are grateful to our instructors and students for taking the necessary steps to protect one another and are looking forward to continuing to build caring and intentional communities within each group and within the entirety of our wonderful Gap cohort!