Covid Invades BGES Tour

Covid can attack, but with proper action, it doesn’t need to ruin a perfectly good tour. | Pixabay

It had to happen. Covid reached out and touched us last week and, while irritating and somewhat inconvenient, we completed our mission. I wanted to tell you about what happened and how we handled it. During our “Central Plains Indian Wars” tour, we discussed our protocols at the opening briefing. Conforming with the existing guidance, we noted that masks were optional on board the bus and during the tour. I then explained what would happen if anyone displayed cold-like symptoms. That happened Monday morning when a traveler appeared at breakfast with the symptoms of a cold. We immediately sent him to take a Covid self-test, which showed positive.

We removed him from the bus, advised the hotel, and requested he rest and retest that evening. The area they occupied was sanitized and wiped down before we departed on the tour. The majority of the bus masked but removed them within an hour of travel. One traveler who arrived and wore their mask from the beginning continued to wear their mask for the duration of the tour. Upon return to the hotel, we tested the traveler who had been positive, and they tested positive again. We brought them dinner and made arrangements for them to return home after they consulted with their personal physicians. As they were staff, BGES paid for their extraordinary lodging and travel. After appropriate rest, they returned home on Friday. That evening BGES purchased BiNax Covid self-tests for every traveler. We then looked at the time the group was exposed and advised all travelers and staff to test on Wednesday evening or Thursday morning. With all travelers vaccinated and no one displaying any symptoms, masks remained optional.

BGES Executive Director Len Riedel

On Thursday morning at 5 a.m. in Colby, a traveler woke me to advise they had tested positive. They came to my room and I immediately booked them a flight home from Hays, Kansas, that day. I met with the cohort at breakfast to advise them what had happened—none of the remaining nine people had tested positive. I retested and, since I was driving and my status would determine what the remainder of the tour (two days) would look like, my negative test compelled me to drive the positive traveler 100 miles to Hays, return to Colby 100 miles, and sanitize the bus, wiping down every surface. The cohort decided they wished to return to Kansas City bypassing Salinas and the last road day of the tour. Four members (half) of the cohort made arrangements to leave the tour and return home on Friday instead of Saturday.

The direct trip back to Kansas City was 376 miles. I came back to Colby with sandwiches so we would not need to stop and eat. BGES also purchased another nine BiNax Covid test kits to cover the new positive, and personal containers of hand sanitizer for each traveler. Because of the exposure of the cohort which had been traveling with each other since Friday previously (this being Thursday), masking was optional. The protocol for a negative self-test without symptoms was a second test no sooner than 24 hours and no later than 48 hours after the first negative. That evening, the entire cohort, masked and unmasked, opted to have a BBQ dinner together. The hotel in Salinas (Hilton Garden Inn) graciously released us from our contract for Thursday night and the LaQuinta Inn Airport fit us in a night early.

On Friday morning, our third positive test was reported. The traveler immediately self-isolated and is remaining in Kansas City until Wednesday, May 4. They are staying at their own expense. No other positives have been reported, and the entire cohort has returned home save one.

What we know and what we don’t know is this. Patient zero had been to a Civil War conference that had 200+ attendees the week before and had been on the three-bus tour that accompanied it. They came to our program directly from that and clearly acquired the virus at that conference, which matured and manifested itself as a positive on Monday morning. The other two positives sat next to and across from patient zero at a dinner of seven people on Sunday evening in Dodge City. They tested positive five to six days after exposure to patient zero. The other four at that dinner have all tested negative twice since then. No additional positives sourced to patient zero are known.

Since the other two positives developed within 24 hours of each other, and were exposed to the entire cohort during the week, they have all received the BiNax test kits and have been advised to test no sooner than May 3. If negative, then again no later than May 5. All were advised to contact their primary care physicians if they test positive and reminded to ask about proactive treatment as people in the high-risk category.

BGES engaged in contact tracing, advising each vendor who we came in contact with of the positive tests and recommending they self-test. We asked our cohort to advise us if they test positive after returning home. One person who had also registered for our Lewis and Clark trip, shaken by the experience, canceled that registration and was refunded their prepaid registration fee for the program. Another registrant, concerned about our loosened masking and vaccination requirements, canceled before this tour and was cheerfully refunded all of their money.

While the loose ends of this first encounter with Covid on a BGES tour are not yet completed, I thought it important to share with you what happened, what we did about it, and what you can expect if you register for a BGES tour. Covid is now a part of life, and we are living with it. The three positives all reported minor symptoms that largely subsided in 48 hours or less. We continue to track the episode to determine if our protocols are proper and adequate. We were fortunate to have backup staff to pick up the slack when one staff member had to leave. On road trips, at a board member’s recommendation, we will ensure we have a chase vehicle that can support any outbreaks on the road while not impacting the main tour. This will not be required for programs that operate out of one hotel and that return to that hotel each night.

An eye-opening experience to say the least, but we wanted you to know how we handle such issues and what you can expect traveling with us. Let us continue to hope Covid plays a decreasing role in the future.