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How Outward Bound is Adapting to COVID-19

Masks, physical distancing and quarantining are things most of us never thought about before February 2020. But just as they’ve now become a mainstay in our vocabulary, they’re also essential factors to consider when deciding how to adapt Outward Bound expeditions to mitigate the risks of COVID-19. To reflect this new reality and bolster our risk management capabilities, Judith Pelletier was added to the risk management team as our National Safety Manager. 

Photo of Judith PelletierAfter 12 years in the outdoor sector as a wilderness guide, Judith transitioned to a program director role, managing instructors and overseeing the administration of wilderness expeditions. “Being on the other side of the satellite phone conversation during an emergency was very eye-opening,” she says, “I soon enjoyed researching all the ways we could systematize our operations to further mitigate risks.” In 2017, Judith joined Outward Bound as the Vancouver program manager and returned to university three years later to begin a master’s degree in disaster and emergency management. Earlier this year she stepped into the new National Safety Manager position. 

The new role was “created out of an abundance of caution, and a need to respond rapidly and effectively to the emerging risks the pandemic presented us,” explains Judith. Along with the National Safety Officer, the risk management team ensures that Outward Bound’s policies and procedures reflect the current industry standards and promote outdoor experiences that are challenging and empowering for youth. She adds that “while we cannot eliminate all of the risks present in our activities, we work diligently to mitigate them as much as possible.”

When it comes to COVID-19, the risk management team has introduced a series of policies that reflect provincial and federal public health recommendations and follow guidelines set by industry leaders. These include limiting all courses to participants who live in the province where the program is taking place to reduce travel and requiring a negative PCR test to be submitted within 72 hours of the start of the course. The size of the cohorts and contact with others has also been reduced, and all participants are asked to wear appropriate PPE when physical distancing cannot be guaranteed. In addition, the policies mandate enhanced hygiene protocols and limit the amount of shared equipment, which means every student will get their own tent or sleeping shelter.

When asked why parents should feel comfortable sending their teens on an Outward Bound Canada expedition this summer, Judith states that, “we all know the benefits of being outdoors on a teenager’s physical, mental and emotional health. And, after a year of confinement, screens and stillness, being active outside is more important for youth than ever. Additionally, being outdoors greatly reduces the risk of contracting COVID-19, with less than 10% of cases worldwide transmitted outdoors, and walking, hiking, canoeing and sea kayaking are deemed low-risk activities.”

Although Outward Bound’s traditional overnight programs for teens did not operate in 2020 due to restrictions, many young adult expeditions and teen day camps were run successfully. With this experience under our belt, Judith is confident the new policies are effective and do not impact the integrity of an Outward Bound program. “It will take some adjustments,” she encourages, “but our instructors are ready to get youth back to the outdoors and make it a memorable experience for all!”

To learn more about our COVID-19 protocols please visit our COVID-19 response page.