Coronavirus Update as of April 2, 2020

Dear NOLS Students and Community,

Thank you for your ongoing support, patience, and enduring positivity as we navigate through this challenging time. 

As a school, we have come together in our efforts to understand, monitor, and help respond to COVID-19 impacts. We continue to work and stay in close consultation with federal and state public health experts, peer organizations, and our educational partners as we make decisions to support the health and well-being of our students, staff, and faculty. 

I would like to share updates that have taken place around the school. We do not make these decisions lightly and believe this immediate action will best support our students and people. 

As of March 16, NOLS suspended all courses currently in the field. Location teams are working to bring students back to campus at the first scheduled opportunity to leave the field for safe travel home. We see increasing uncertainty around domestic and international travel, signalled by cascades of new restrictions each day. We also see growing indications that the school may be unable to offer routine or emergency support to courses while they are in the field, even domestically. For these reasons, we made this decision at a point when we still have confidence in the societal support systems and freedom of travel that let us operate in an organized manner. 

As you can imagine, this is a complex effort to coordinate and NOLS is committed to working with impacted students by providing on-campus care, assistance in travel logistics, and overall support to help their efforts to return home. We are also working with our students through the financial impacts of these changes. 

As of March 17, NOLS cancelled upcoming field-based programming through May 11, 2020. Following governmental guidance around social distancing, group size restrictions, limiting travel, and ever-changing travel advisories, the school believes these efforts will allow us to contribute to “flattening the curve” of the pandemic. 

As of March 25, NOLS extended the suspension of classroom courses to May 11, 2020 to follow the guidance of the CDC to postpone large events and gatherings where social distancing is difficult for eight weeks. 

Following the guidance of the U.S. Department of State's Level 4: Do Not Travel advisory and continued uncertainty around international travel, NOLS is cancelling upcoming expedition courses scheduled to take place at our campuses in Scandinavia and Yukon as of March 30.

Course changes are summarized as such:

  • Wilderness Medicine, Risk Services and Custom Education classroom-based courses are suspended through May 11. 
  • Expedition field courses are cancelled through May 11.
  • Expedition field courses scheduled in Scandinavia and Yukon for this summer are cancelled.

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.

For our staff, the school has initiated telecommuting and work from home opportunities. We are asking staff to limit travel and unnecessary social mixing situations in an effort to slow transmission. The school is implementing a leave policy that provides 14 days of paid leave for employees showing symptoms or supporting family members who may be affected. We are also providing faculty impacted by course cancellations support including honoring qualifying work agreements, some travel reimbursements, and opportunity for alternative work. 

Beyond our students and staff, NOLS is considering ways in which the school and our people might be able to provide greater support to communities in which we operate.

These are unprecedented times, and each day we see changes that we would not have predicted even a week ago.  At the same time, it has been truly inspiring to see the NOLS and larger community come together as problem-solvers who know that we will get through this.  We don’t know when, and the horizon is shrouded in the fog of the immediate, but I am comfortable in our ability to navigate adversity and uncertainty. It’s what we do.

In the meantime, be kind to each other, look out for one another, be cautious with your health, and thanks for being part of our team.


Terri Watson


  • Does NOLS have a 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.

    1. Actively monitoring the situation as it evolves
    2. Following government guidance on 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:

    We are also monitoring updates from:

    • U.S. Embassies in our operational countries
    • OSAC
    • Specific country government health websites (i.e. NZ Ministry of Health)
    • Reputable news sources
  • What are the top preventative measures to take against COVID-19?

    As a preventative measure against disease transmission, NOLS has protocols for hygiene practices used by staff on a regular basis that we teach our students. These practices are equally important in preventing the spread of illness between students and staff.

    For students and staff traveling to/from NOLS locations, we suggest the following: 

    • Wash hands frequently using soap and water
    • Don’t touch mouth, nose, eyes
    • When coughing or sneezing, use the crook of your arm (inner elbow) to cover your mouth. (if you use your hand to 'cover' your mouth, you just spread the germs to any surface you touch)
    • Carry disinfectant wipes to wipe surfaces before touching
    • Try to minimize touching surfaces in public places
    • Practice social distancing (close contact is defined by CDC as 6 feet (2 meters)
  • What is NOLS doing to protect students from COVID-19?

    NOLS staff and instructors are on alert monitoring flu-like symptoms and administering responsible self-care practices with students and following best practices as identified by the CDC.

    If a student arrives at a NOLS location and is exhibiting signs and symptoms of flu-like illness (fever, cough, sore throat, and shortness of breath), they will be monitored, and may be isolated and provided medical attention as appropriate.

    NOLS is also actively monitoring staff at our campuses. Anyone with reason to believe they have been exposed to COVID-19 will be isolated from others and brought to medical care.

  • How is NOLS Wilderness Medicine helping people whose certification has been impacted by the temporary suspension of courses?

    NOLS Wilderness Medicine offers a two year certification with a one year re-entry period. We have taken the following measure to support students who may be affected by our temporary suspension of courses.

    If your certification expires between 9/13/2020 and 3/12/2022, there is no change in your certification period or re-entry year.

    If your certification expired/expires between 3/13/2019 and 9/12/2020 we are automatically adding 9 months to your certification length. Your twelve month re-entry period begins at the end of your new expiration date.

    This 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 is our understanding that other programs are considering a similar plan.

    We are beginning work on a process to make these changes in our data system and to reissue new certification cards.  This will take some time and we ask for your patience while we work with our database programmers to institute this change.

  • My upcoming NOLS Expedition Course was cancelled, what is the school doing?

    NOLS is working with enrolled students whose course was cancelled individually to provide 100% refund on tuition. This impacts students with a course start date between March 13 through May 11. Please contact your Admissions Officer (contact info available in your student dashboard) to facilitate these changes.

  • My Expedition course was suspended and NOLS communicated that I would be getting a refund or credit. How does this work?

    Thank you for your patience. For students whose expedition field course ended early, NOLS is offering a choice of tuition refund or tuition credit towards a future course. Please connect with your Admissions Officer (contact info available in your student dashboard) to facilitate these changes.

  • I am enrolled on a summer course. Will my course run as scheduled?

    At this time, NOLS is planning to run scheduled summer field and classroom courses. The NOLS team continues to actively monitor the evolving situation of COVID-19 impacts around the world and we will proactively share any course changes in a timely manner.