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What You Need to Know About COVID-19 in Teen & Young Adult Treatment programs

Updated March 22, 2020 to include Podcast interviews with Executive Directors 


Described in detail in the Washington Post, an extremely contagious new coronavirus was detected in China during the last days of 2019. The disease, now named COVID-19 (“COronoVirus Infectious Disease 2019”), has spread beyond China’s borders and has killed more than 2,500 people.

With the disease rapidly spreading around the globe, and the stock market tumbling on fears of an international recession, people are understandably concerned – even though most cases of the disease are mild. A recent Washington Post Article asked the question “How Deadly Is It?” and there is good news. Right now, it seems that COVID-19, “is less deadly than SARS, which killed about 10 percent of people who were infected during the outbreak that began in 2002.” The article went on to explain that “as of Feb. 7, about 2 percent of the reported cases have been fatal, but many experts say the death rate could be lower. That’s because early in an outbreak, mild illnesses may not be reported.”

Boarding schools, colleges and universities, and treatment programs around the country are taking the spread of the coronavirus into consideration and preparing institutional and organizational policies and responses – just as they do for any communicable disease. Families are encouraged to review fact-based information from organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), be in touch with healthcare providers, and to reach out directly to programs if they have specific questions.


How Does COVID-19 Spread and What Can Be Done?

  • Based on what we know at this time, coronavirus spreads like the common cold.
  • To prevent the spread:
  • Keep your hands away from your face.
  • Wash hands with soap and warm water for 20 seconds (sing the ABC’s or Happy Birthday every time you wash). When teaching children, have them pay attention to between the fingers, under nails and the backs of the hands; these are often unsanitized.
  • In the absence of soap and water, use a 60-90% alcohol-based hand sanitizer, and regularly wipe down and disinfect frequently touched or high-traffic areas (i.e., door knobs).
  • Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, and then throw it in the garbage. When unavailable, always cover by coughing into your elbow.
  • Stay home from work or school if you are sick.
  • Keep your germs to yourself – and that includes if you intend to visit your child in treatment. If you are not feeling well — STAY HOME and get healthy.

Because is an online treatment directory, we have reached out to many of the treatment and intervention programs for up-to-date information. All of them reported back that they are following the CDC guidelines and training staff and educating the students based on the developmental level of the student/child/young adult enrolled in their program.


How are wilderness therapy programs preparing for COVID-19?

By design of Wilderness Therapy Programs, they are keeping clients clean and worried about the spread of viruses and flu in the middle of winter. Respondents said they continue to keep the teens and young adults safe during cold and flu season with programmatic winter policies:

  1. Hand washing circles 3x a day
  2. Supervised hand washing after bathroom runs
  3. Health checks 3x a day
  4. Contact medical director and nurse at first signs of flu like symptoms. (New Vision Wilderness, WI & OR)
  • Admissions Process Pre-screening Already Heightened because of Flu Season, and especially now. Prior to arrival inquiring if a student has been on a plane in the last 2 weeks or has the student been out of the country (where)? Inquiring about exposure to others with flu illness or symptoms
  • Admissions Rule Outs = fever chills body, or aches within the last 2 weeks Rule out shortness of breath, fatigue, cough, headaches.
  • Vigilant hand washing and constant reminders about covering your mouth/nose when coughing and sneezing additionally, keep hands away from face/mouth, eyes.
  • Increasing disinfecting common areas
  • No sharing personal items
  • Family visits = requesting parents who are not feeling well stay at home and not visit the island. (Pacific Quest, HI)
  • When it comes to infectious disease, the benefit of being an expedition model wilderness program is that our clients are already in an austere and healthy outdoor environment where they are isolated from outsiders, typically only coming into contact with our support staff. To that end, we have a two-phase plan in place to test, treat, and quarantine clients who show any symptoms, the first phase effective immediately and the second phase to be put in place for any client who would come to us from an area affected by the virus, as identified by the CDC.
  • We have also put in place hygiene protocols that go above and beyond what we already practice, in order to prevent the spread of the virus from anyone who may be asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic. (Elements Traverse and Elements Wilderness Program, UT)
  • A hybrid wilderness therapy program in Maine, Summit Achievment, reported they are monitoring the situation closely with guidance from The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC). We are asking all potential applicants and new staffwhere they have traveled within the last two months. If they have been in a known outbreak area, we are deferring their admissions or employment until they have had 30 days without fever or other symptoms. Our physician, who is on campus every Tuesday and our nurse, who is on campus Monday and Tuesday, are meeting (as always) every new student upon admission to review any medical issues and updating us daily with virus protocols. Additionally, doubling down on training staff and students the importance of washing hands thoroughly with soap and water, covering mouths and nose when coughing or sneezing. We are also keeping the campus disinfected (Summit Achievement, ME).

How are teen and young adult residential treatment programs preparing for COVID-19?

  • CDC and WHO guidelines, additional training of staff and sanitizing public spaces, education of students on campus and those traveling home on how to stay clean in public spaces (Spring Ridge Academy, Arizona)
  • Communication with families, education with the students and monitoring the The New Mexico Department of Health is preparing for all possible scenarios ( ). Additionally, proactively stocking up on N-95 masks, anti-viral hospital quality surface disinfectant, and lots of hand sanitizer. There will be education of the students too (Sandhill Center, NM).
  • Letter to families giving them visit guidelines if they have been out of the country or in areas where the virus is spreading. Education with the boys enrolled in the program about CDC Guidelines to keep them from getting sick quickly, staff training and education (Gateway Academy, UT).
  • Policies and procedures have been in place since the opening of the program. (pandemic influenza) (reSTART, WA – Teens & Young Adults)
  • The only young adult programs that is licensed and certified in our state and fully accredited for all levels of care by The Joint Commission for Behavioral Health, has we have already been implementing our Infectious Disease protocols, so adding additional support for COVID-19 was fairly straight forward. (Benchmark Transitions, CA – Residential & Extended Care)


How are 18+ young adult assessment, gap year/transitional living/ sober living programs preparing for COVID-19?

  • For the nursing department we are following CDC guidelines. The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus. This requires everyday intervention. Like avoiding close contact with people who are sick, avoiding touching your own eyes, nose and mouth. Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash, clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces, using facemasks to protect themselves from respiratory disease, washing hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds (Bridge House Recovery, UT).
  • CDC and WHO recommendations and our own infectious disease policy, monitoring clients’ temperatures and lots of education for the clients. We have established a protocol for handwashing and disinfecting surface areas. We have begun stocking virus kits for any members in case they can not participate at our location. We will speak with the entire community on Monday about symptoms and what to do if you have a fever and the importance of a quarantine – many may go home to their families. We have prepared streamline staff to have the owners in Portland (ME) so staff can stay home – with pay. Owners plan to make deliveries to any member in quarantine. Therapy can be done virtually, using the G Suite Hangouts app. Our members can quarantine themselves in their apartments – we have stocked up on non-perishables, water, Lysol, tissues, cleaning supplies, ibuprofen and cold/flu meds. We will stay in contact as we continue a constant flow of communication and information with them via Google Suite. (Onward Transitions, Maine).
  • An email communication and conversations including specifics on how to care in your own apartment and in public (EDGE Advance, Illinois).
  • Educating our clients on hyper vigilant personal hygiene in public places (schools, work places, airports, etc) as well as teaching about personal protective equipment (PPE) and have stocked N95 masks, nitrile gloves and packs of sanitizing wipes for phones, computers, airplane seats and tray tables (Urban Edge, Colorado).
  • We have covered it in relation to the flu, which we already coach around as part of hygiene. Since we are an active coaching program, we made this active; coaches are washing their hands with students before and after coaching sessions to offer practice, create dialogue, and encourage the most preventive action (College Excel, OR).
  • All clients who join us from the US or other countries receive a physical before they get on the plane to come to Costa Rica. Once they arrive if any physical symptoms arise they are brought immediately to the doctors in Costa Rica (Pure Life, Costa Rica).

The Podcast, Mental Horizon’s with Virgil Stucker, which is available on Stitcher, Apple Podcasts, and SoundCloud interviewed two Executive Directors to talk about what they are doing to support, education, continue programming and so much more for the particpants of these Young Adult programs. 

  • S2E10: COVID-19 and Residential Treatment Programs – a brief, special episode with Eric Levine, EdD, Executive Director of CooperRiis Healing Community in North Carolina.
  • S2E11: Social Connectedness During a Global Crisis with Ross Ellenhorn, PhD talking specifically about what they are doing to keep their participants safe and how it is operating.  Ellenhorn is located in NYC, Boston & NC.

Wash Your Hands!

What I learned, and hopefully you did too, is that these assessment, treatment and transition programs for teens and young adults are READY!    And if your questions were not answered, call admissions and get them answered. Keep up to date on the most-current CDC guidelines. I can tell you these programs are a lot safer than my home. I am going to go wash my hands now. 



About the Author
Jenney Wilder, M.S.Ed launched All Kinds of Therapy in 2015, as the only independent online directory for the Family Choice Behavioral Healthcare Industry. With an impressive case of ADHD and her starter career in the 90’s in Silicon Valley, the dream for creating a website with features like side-by-side comparison and an integrated newsletter was born. Jenney stopped counting treatment centers and all types of schools that she has visited when she hit 500 many years ago. She was the sponsoring author of the only Economic Impact Study of the Family Choice Behavioral Healthcare Industry, which revealed the only true financial figures about this industry (in Utah). Jenney has a Masters in Special Education from Bank Street College (NY) and a Bachelors of Arts focused on History from Wheaton College (MA).