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For all the volunteers wondering when MDS will reopen projects with overnight accommodations, the answer is—not yet. But thoughtful planning and visioning is taking place behind the scenes to ensure that, when projects do reopen, they’ll do so as safely as possible.

In the context of COVID-19, “MDS can and will work in a way that upholds our reputation for integrity, safety, and quality work,” said Jerry Grosh, MDS field operations manager. Grosh and other MDS staff have been considering the benchmarks needed to reopen projects, as well as a set of best safety practices for volunteers when they are able to get back onsite.

Projects are going to look different, said Grosh. MDS will be considering local, state, and national regulations and travel advisories, and volunteers may be required to be from a certain local area so they can return home instead of staying overnight. “We will also need to be able to obtain supplies and materials with minimal risk,” said Grosh. In addition, volunteers will receive a set of advisories and health regulations depending on their role, ranging from food preparation to accommodations to worksites.

As wider COVID-19 testing and a possible vaccine become available, those factors will be considered as well, said Grosh. “Not only do we want to limit the risk to volunteers but we are also limiting the risk to the communities in which we serve,” he said, “and MDS volunteers should never be considered ‘exempt’ from following regional or local regulations.”

In Canada, Ross Penner, MDS director of operations, said that, although Canada has a different landscape when it comes to COVID-19 prevention and response, the ultimate goal is the same: to keep MDS volunteers and communities as safe as possible.

“In Canada, we have seen amazing unity around the science of why we need to shut down,” said Penner. “What we know is that it’s really important that we do not open up too soon, and that we carefully assess the risk.”

In response to volunteers who have been eagerly asking when they can return, Penner joined Grosh in saying: “Not yet,” adding, “I have been supporting the thoughtful planning that underway, planning that will eventually help us answer the question of how we reopen safely.”

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