COVID-19 Updates

Updates as of June 1, 2021

Wilderness Medicine Updates June 2021
As of June 1, 2021 students on a Wilderness Medicine course >3 days in length must bring one of the following to the start of their course:

  • Negative COVID-19 molecular or NAAT (includes PCR) test or COVID-19 Antigen test taken no more than 5 days before the course start date.
  • Proof of completed regimen for a COVID-19 vaccine that is authorized by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or World Health Organization WHO). For example, two weeks after receiving the second dose of a two-dose vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna) or two weeks after receiving a single-dose vaccine (Johnson and Johnson)

Expeditions Updates May 2021
As of May 30, 2021 students on an expedition-based course must bring one of the following to the start of their course:

  • Negative PCR test for COVID-19 taken no more than 5 days before the course start date
  • Proof of completed regimen for a COVID-19 vaccine that is authorized by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or World Health Organization WHO). For example, two weeks after receiving the second dose of a two-dose vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna) or two weeks after receiving a single-dose vaccine (Johnson and Johnson)

Expeditions Update March 2021
In response to updated guidelines from the CDC, and in consultation with our medical advisors, NOLS changed the "Phase 1" period of an Expedition from 14 days to 10 days. In the Phase 1 period, everyone follows practices such as wearing masks and maintaining social distancing. After this period, if everyone on the course remains symptom-free, the course may transition to a family group phase where physical distancing and mask requirements might be relaxed.

Daily health checks and all other COVID-19 mitigation practices for Expeditions will remain the same, except that daily health checks will no longer include taking temperature.

Wilderness Medicine Update January 2021
In response to the worsening COVID pandemic, in December NOLS made the decision to substantially scale back Wilderness Medicine programming through mid-February. NOLS Wilderness Medicine staff have used this time to undertake a reassessment of the criteria under which we have been operating courses since NOLS reopened last July, and have developed updated criteria we feel will allow us to operate responsibly in the current situation.

Building on the proven Expanded COVID Classroom Practices, NOLS Wilderness Medicine has implemented changes in the following areas:

  • Personal protective equipment requirements
  • COVID-19 testing requirements on courses longer than three days
  • Limits on acceptable caseloads in areas hosting courses

Since July 2020, the pandemic situation has changed a great deal. On the one hand, we have a far better understanding of the SAR-CoV-2 virus, and increased testing, personal protective equipment (PPE) availability, and the ongoing vaccine rollout make running courses a more manageable endeavor.

On the other hand, the continuing patchwork of regulations across the U.S., in particular, has made it challenging to assess the advisability of operating in various locations. These new operating criteria updates seek to apply an objective standard to operational decisions amidst our national (and global) patchwork of public health orders.

NOLS Wilderness Medicine will work with our sponsors to implement these updated protocols and inform students promptly. Students currently enrolled on an upcoming Wilderness Medicine course will receive an updated student disclosure and course logistics noting any changes—particularly testing requirements—that affect their courses. Students intending to register for future courses should read all course documents carefully.


Practicing Tolerance for Adversity and Uncertainty

NOLS has been actively monitoring and responding to the evolving situation around COVID-19. The school’s leadership has been in close consultation with federal and state public health experts, peer organizations, and our educational partners since January. 

For 55 years, NOLS has helped over 350,000 students learn the lessons of the wilderness: self-reliance, judgment, risk management, and the skills to thrive in a changing world. The current environment of uncertainty speaks directly to the NOLS curriculum and our values as a school. This is truly a time for leadership and judgment, given the unpredictable trajectory of the pandemic. We thank you for your support, patience, and understanding as we navigate the rapidly changing landscape. 

We will continue to assess the COVID-19 pandemic and its effects on escalating travel, health, and safety restrictions and proactively communicate any impacts on future courses. Please check this page for the latest updates.


Community Notices


Archived Course Updates

December 2020:

  • NOLS Reopens Expeditions in Mexico in 2021
  • Updated Wilderness Medicine Certification Extension Plan:
    If your certification expired/expires between 3/13/2019 and 8/31/2021 we are automatically adding 12 months to your certification length. Your twelve-month re-entry period begins at the end of your new expiration date. This extension applies to all NOLS Wilderness Medicine certifications including wilderness medicine, CPR, and epinephrine auto-injector. If your certification was issued by another training provider, please contact them directly. It will take some time to make these changes in our data system, thank you for your patience. 

August 13:

  • The school operated 24 field courses and 13 classroom courses in July and plans to run 15 field courses and 36 classroom courses in August. These totals represent approximately 15% of normal for field and 40% of normal for classroom courses.
  • NOLS will continue to offer field courses (primarily expedition semesters) at domestic US campuses through spring 2021. The Restart Task Force continues to monitor location, regional, and international travel advisories and will review resuming international operations in 2021.
  • Expedition courses (domestic Spring and Summer 2021) and Alumni trips are currently enrolling. View available courses
  • Wilderness Medicine welcomed 25  WEMT students to the Wyss Wilderness Medicine Campus in July. WEMT programs are scheduled monthly from August to December. Currently, all courses are full with waitlists. Shorter wilderness medicine courses and recertification programs are also scheduled for the fall and winter. View available courses. The team continues to monitor opportunities to run additional courses where local guidelines permit. 
  • Risk Services completed its inaugural online Risk Management Training (RMT) course. There will be additional RMT courses available this fall with both in-person and online options.
  • Registration for the fully-online 2020 Wilderness Risk Management Conference is now open. This year’s conference features keynote speaker José González, and topical panels addressing COVID-19 field practices, inequity in the outdoors, and more. 

June 4:

  • NOLS announces limited operations as it resumes select field and classroom courses starting July 1. Courses in Alaska have been cancelled due to continuing travel restrictions.
  • Field expeditions will operate from two Wyoming locations, Lander and Boulder, and include a small mix of backpacking and horse packing courses.
  • A small selection of Wilderness Medicine courses will resume in the U.S. and internationally. 
  • The 27th Wilderness Risk Management Conference will pivot to a digital event. Registration and event details will be announced soon.

General FAQ

  • Where can I find information on NOLS' practices to limit the spread of COVID-19 on all courses?

    You may view the most current practices for preventing the spread of COVID-19 on our COVID-19 Practices page.

  • What is the school’s risk management policy?

    Risk is essential to a NOLS education. We operate in dynamic, unpredictable environments and practice thoughtful and effective risk management to attain our educational objectives. Contracting COVID-19, the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, is a new risk for everyone and (like other risks) cannot be eliminated.

    The principles for NOLS COVID-19 risk management are:

    • Informed consent
    • Physical distancing
    • Face coverings (masks) when physical distancing is not practical
    • Increased attention to hygiene, with a focus on hands
    • Screening for symptoms (daily health checks)
  • What is NOLS’ pandemic plan?

    We have a COVID-19 response plan and use a decision matrix to guide the school’s response to a pandemic or other major event that might affect our programming. This matrix is a tool we have used in the past for natural disasters such as a tsunami, earthquakes, or volcanoes as well as political unrest and other events. The plan includes:

    1. Actively monitoring the situation as it evolves
    2. Following government guidance on travel risks when making course cancellation decisions
    3. Being prepared to respond to students or staff who show symptoms of flu-like illness
    4. Following government guidance on methods to prevent illness
    5. Planning for possibility of widespread illness and program disruption
  • What resources are you using to make decisions?

    While there are many sources for coronavirus information, our primary resources include:

    • Health information from the Center for Disease Control (CDC)
    • State, county, and other local health department advisories
    • The CDC Traveler’s Health page
    • Reputable news sources 

    We are also monitoring updates from:

    • The U.S. State Department including travel and other information
    • U.S. Embassies in our operational countries
    • Specific country government health websites (e.g., New Zealand Ministry of Health)
  • Can I enroll on a NOLS course at this time?

    Yes! We encourage you to do so and will provide flexibility so that you can have the time and information you need to complete your application. In the event your course cancels, we are providing full tuition refunds, opportunities to transfer to a future course, and other student support. 

    Please bear in mind that we are monitoring COVID-19 impacts closely and if external indicators, the CDC and governing authorities provide guidance that would not allow NOLS to operate, your course status may change. We invite you to view courses online.