The following National Science Foundation Update was sent out by email on 12 November 2022 [Bill]
Dear Antarctic Sciences Community,
As many of you are aware, McMurdo Station experienced an increase in COVID-19 cases between October 15 and November 4. To date, all cases but one have been mild, suggesting that our elevated standards for PQ (physical qualifications needed to deploy), and our vaccination requirements, are effective.
The safety and health of our deployed and deploying population is our highest priority, which is why we are instituting a two-week pause in travel from Christchurch to McMurdo. We anticipate this temporary pause will lower transmission rates by not introducing new individuals to the station and greatly decrease the likelihood of transferring positive individuals to the Deep Field and South Pole. It also allows NSF to consider and implement additional mitigation strategies, including increased testing, more stringent masking requirements, and the creation of additional isolation spaces for COVID-positive persons, as needed.
While our goal is to allow science to go forward, this goal cannot supersede our responsibility to keep our population safe. We recognize that the preventive measures taken over the last few seasons resulted in severe limitations of scientific work, which felt frustrating. Our pause and ongoing efforts intend to strike a balance between safety, health, and the progress of science. Adherence to the mitigation tactics is the fastest way to get back to the research at hand.
When we see a decrease in cases, we can consider resuming normal operations and science activities with the additional mitigation measures. Our containment plan will include a thoughtful "safety and health first" focus while fulfilling our overall science mission to the greatest extent possible for this and future seasons.
For regular updates on COVID in Antarctica, please consult the NSF Coronavirus Information Page.
Roberta Marinelli Director, NSF Office of Polar Programs--
Note that the Coronavirus Information Page linked above includes an update added on 7 November--Bill.