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Rotary and the coronavirus impact: Frequently Asked Questions



As people of action, Rotary members want to find ways to respond to COVID-19, and to help people affected by it. The Rotary Foundation offers several options that Rotarians can use to help care for and protect people in their own communities and others around the world.

Q: Can I apply for a disaster response grant for COVID-19 related projects?

A: No, disaster response grants are no longer available to support COVID-19 related projects.

Q: Can districts use contingency funds from an open district grant or repurposed previously planned activities as a COVID-19 response?

A: Yes. As districts prepare to submit new district grant applications for 2020-21, we encourage you to designate funds for COVID-19 responses. 

Q: What if my district already has expenses related to COVID-19 activities?

A: As a one-time exception, the Foundation will allow expenses related to COVID-19 that were incurred since 15 March 2020 to be reimbursed through 2020-21 district grants.

Q: Can I use a Rotary Foundation global grant to fund COVID-19 related projects?

A: Yes. Global grants remain an excellent way to make a transformative impact in a community. If medical equipment is needed in order to respond effectively to COVID-19, global grants can help pay for these items. The Foundation is waiving the 30 percent foreign financing requirement for any new global grant that addresses COVID-19. Note that these grants still require both a host and international partner.

For additional information, contact your regional grants officer.



Q: How does the COVID-19 pandemic impact Rotary’s fight to end polio?

A: In our work to end polio, the program sees the devastating impact that communicable diseases have. With this in mind, we are fully committed to supporting national health systems by engaging our expertise and assets to help mitigate and contain the COVID-19 pandemic, alongside continuing concerted efforts to eradicate polio.

Using the vast infrastructure developed to identify the poliovirus and deliver vaccination campaigns, the polio eradication program is pitching in to protect the vulnerable from COVID-19, especially in polio-endemic countries. From Pakistan to Nigeria, the program is drawing on years of experience fighting outbreaks to support governments as they respond to the new virus. Learn more.


Club and district meetings

Q: Should my club or district continue to hold meetings?

A: Rotary International recommends that districts and Rotary and Rotaract clubs meet virtually, cancel, or postpone meetings. Closely examine your personal circumstances, including any health issues, when you consider travel and participation in events.

Learn from other clubs about hosting virtual club meetings in the Learning Center.


Rotary leadership, committees, RI secretariat

Q: Will the RI Board of Directors and The Rotary Foundation Trustees meet during this pandemic?

A: Yes, the RI Board and the Foundation Trustees meetings will take place remotely via webinar rather than in-person.

Q: Did the RI Board take any action in response to COVID-19?

A: Yes. The RI Board, in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic, agreed to general principles at their April meeting. Here are some of the highlights:

  • The health and safety of all participants in Rotary programs, meetings, and events is of paramount importance.
  • No in-person meeting or event shall be mandatory for any Rotary participant who may feel uncomfortable attending because of the pandemic.
  • All conveners and organizers of Rotary meetings are strongly encouraged to consider all health concerns in deciding whether to hold in-person meetings.
  • All RI Board meetings shall be conducted virtually (and not in-person) for the remainder of calendar year 2020
  • All RI committee meetings shall be conducted virtually (and not in-person) for the remainder of calendar year 2020
  • 2020 Rotary Institute conveners are authorized to decide whether to conduct their institutes and governor-elect and governor-nominee training in-person or virtually
  • Rl shall not fund the expenses of any president’s representative to a district conference for the 2020–21 Rotary year. If a district requests a president’s representative, the president may appoint one from the same region of the world in which the district is located, at no cost to RI.
  • Governors are strongly encouraged to use virtual meetings for club visits that occur during calendar year 2020.
  • Regional leaders are strongly encouraged to use virtual meetings for training seminars and other events during calendar year 2020Yes, the RI Board.

Q: Is the Rotary International secretariat taking precautions?

A: Yes. All Rotary committees and events scheduled to take place at Rotary International headquarters in Evanston, Illinois, USA, have been canceled through 31 December. If feasible, committees may choose to hold virtual meetings.

All RI staff travel, both international and domestic, has also been canceled through 31 December. RI staff at Evanston headquarters and all of Rotary’s global offices are practicing social distancing by working from home.


Rotary Youth Exchange

Q: Are Rotary Youth Exchanges still taking place?

A: After carefully considering the results of a risk assessment we conducted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Board of Directors of Rotary International decided to allow some districts to continue Rotary Youth Exchanges with strict safety guidelines and program modifications during the 2020-21 Rotary year. These changes include suspending all short-term exchanges until 1 October 2020 and long-term exchanges until January 2021. The Board will regularly reassess the situation and make changes accordingly to ensure the safety and well-being of our participants.

Q: How were these decisions made?

A: The Board reviewed a comprehensive risk assessment prepared by Rotary International staff experts, which outlined new safety requirements for districts conducting Rotary Youth Exchanges, including how to ensure the safety and well-being of our students during travel, while on exchange, and in the event of any changes. Other factors that were carefully considered were the ease and availability of international travel (taking into account border security and travel restrictions), access to medical care and insurance coverage, school delays and closures, and the potential financial impact on participants’ families and Rotary volunteers. If districts use the safety guidelines and a comprehensive crisis management plan, the Board is confident that they can assess the situation and make the right decisions to ensure a safe and enriching experience for young people through Rotary Youth Exchange.

Q: When can students go on exchange again? 

A: If a district can confirm that it has assessed the risks according to the safety guidelines, students can start long-term exchanges beginning 1 January 2021 and can participate in short-term exchanges beginning 1 October 2020.

Q: What is the difference between long-term and short-term exchanges?

A: Long-term exchanges typically last an entire academic year and require the student to be enrolled in school. For school calendars that typically begin in July or August, students would be allowed to do a modified or shortened long-term exchange starting 1 January 2021, if the hosting district, the country’s visa program, and the school allow for a shorter enrollment period. 

Short-term exchanges last from several days to three months and usually occur during school breaks. Because the length is much shorter, it is easier to determine whether there may be any travel restrictions or other impacts related to COVID-19. For that reason, districts can invite students to participate in short-term exchanges beginning 1 October 2020 as long as they have followed all of Rotary’s safety guidelines.

Q: Do students who are currently on exchange have to go home?

A: In regions that are not heavily affected by COVID-19, districts are working with local governments, health authorities, students, participants’ families and host families to ensure that they can safely continue their exchanges. However, students who are now on exchange in countries that are or are likely to become more affected by COVID-19 should plan to return home as soon as it is determined to be possible and safe. Consult travel advisories and guidelines issued by embassies or consular offices, international public health agencies like the World Health Organization, and local health authorities for the latest and most relevant information.

Q: How do we know when it’s safe to plan exchanges?

A: First, make sure your district is certified to participate in Rotary Youth Exchange. Then, closely review the Rotary’s safety guidelines issued by the Board and discuss them with your district Rotary Youth Exchange committee and district governor. It’s important to consider the risks carefully, and to have a comprehensive crisis management plan and a committed team of volunteers to dedicate extra time to communicating with students and families, monitoring local health authority recommendations, and acting quickly if the situation changes. If your district is concerned, the best option may be to suspend your program and resume it only when you are ready. 

Q: What is a crisis management plan?

A: A crisis management plan is a comprehensive and detailed outline of the team that is dedicated to responding to a crisis and the procedures that should be followed to ensure the health, safety, and well-being of everyone involved in a program or activity. The plan should cover various types of crises, such as accidents, violence, natural disasters, political instability, and in this case, health emergencies and disease outbreaks such as COVID-19. According to Rotary’s safety guidelines:

  • A district’s crisis management plan must be reviewed and/or developed in consultation with a local health authority.
  • Each district must have procedures to monitor health and safety developments related to COVID-19, such as travel restrictions and quarantine measures, that could affect either inbound or outbound students.
  • The host district must have a comprehensive communications plan to:
    • Ensure consistent communication between volunteers, students and parents, host families, and Rotary International about important developments related to COVID-19
    • Allow program leaders to quickly locate and communicate with all parties in the event of an emergency
  • A procedure for transporting students home or ensuring their safety if quarantine measures or travel restrictions are implemented during an exchange.

Your plan should list a crisis management team and define each member’s responsibilities for communication, emergency procedures, media relations, and expenses. It's important to consider in advance what factors would prompt canceling or postponing all planned program activities. Also consider what criteria would need to be met to safely resume exchanges. Find more information in the Rotary Youth Protection Guide.

Q: We’ve decided we can confidently plan exchanges in 2020-21, but we can’t find any partner districts. What should we do?

A: Many districts have suspended their programs or will do so after reviewing Rotary’s safety guidelines. If your district is having difficulty finding opportunities with established partners, this may be an opportunity to form new relationships with other districts that are continuing exchanges. District Rotary Youth Exchange officers can use the district chair directory to contact their counterparts and join the Rotary Youth Exchange Discussion Group to meet and share ideas. No district is obligated to participate beyond its ability or willingness.

Q: Do we need approval from Rotary International before we start planning exchanges?

A: You do not need approval from Rotary International to start planning exchanges. So that Rotary staff can support you and help you communicate in the event of an emergency, districts will be required to report program participation before students travel, and you must provide updates within 48 hours of any changes. Instructions for reporting participation will be sent to district leaders in the coming months. The following information will be required for each student who participates in a long-term exchange:

  • Participant’s full name, age, sex, and contact information (email and telephone number)
  • A parent’s or guardian’s full name and contact information (email and telephone number)
  • A parent’s or guardian’s signed consent form, including acknowledgment that personally identifying information will be reported to Rotary International in accordance with Rotary’s data privacy policy and other data privacy regulations, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)
  • Sending district and hosting district numbers
  • Host family’s full names and contact information (email and telephone number and physical address)
  • Start date and end date

Q: How will Rotary communicate with students?

A: Rotary International will communicate with students and families to make sure that they understand Rotary’s youth protection policies, how to access resources related to Rotary Youth Exchange and Rotary’s programs for young leaders, what to expect from the club and district leaders, and who to contact if they have any questions or concerns. Rotary International staff will facilitate communication between students, families, and Rotary volunteers in an emergency. 

Q: What does it mean that some districts voluntarily suspended their programs?

A: Given the uncertainty related to COVID-19 and the potential risks to the health and safety of our students, suspending the program during the coming year may be the right decision for some districts. Any decision that prioritizes the health, safety, and well-being of our students is the right decision. Districts should suspend their programs if they determine that’s the best course of action. 

Q: Our district voluntarily suspended our program before the Board’s decision. Can we change our decision?

A: There is no pressure to change your decision or to participate in exchanges in ways that are beyond your district’s ability or willingness. If you have carefully reviewed the safety guidelines, you have a crisis management plan that includes provisions for health emergencies and disease outbreaks, and everyone on your district Rotary Youth Exchange committee agrees, then you can plan short-term exchanges that start 1 October or after and long-term exchanges that start 1 January 2021 or after. Student safety should be your top priority when making any decision to resume exchanges. Remember, there are many ways to keep young people engaged in Rotary, including virtual exchanges and Rotary programs such as Interact and Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA). Planning can also continue for Rotary Youth Exchange or New Generations Service Exchange later. 

Q: If our district is not participating in Rotary Youth Exchange during 2020-21, what should we do?

A: Continue to support Rotary Youth Exchange. Now is the time to strengthen your program, explore alternatives such as virtual exchanges or other Rotary programs such as Interact and Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA), and continue planning for a Rotary Youth Exchange or New Generations Service Exchange during 2021-22 or after. Our staff will continue to support Rotary Youth Exchange leaders in the year ahead by providing updated and new resources, sharing engagement strategies, collecting participant information, and addressing any of your questions or concerns. We’re confident that when the program fully resumes, Rotary Youth Exchange will be stronger than ever.

Q: What is a virtual exchange?

A: Virtual exchanges are an engaging alternative to in-person exchanges. They offer young people a unique opportunity to engage and collaborate with people from other cultures and communities online. When they’re structured, safe, and developed with specific student goals and learning outcomes in mind, virtual exchange experiences can be just as valuable as physically going abroad by allowing young people to engage in intercultural dialogue and meet people with different viewpoints from around the world. They can also help students challenge stereotypes, increase empathy, and develop intercultural competencies — all of which can help give them the knowledge and skills they need to become global citizens and peacebuilders.

Q: What if we don’t want to follow the safety guidelines issued by the Board? Can we instead use our own guidelines?

A: No. The safety guidelines adopted by the Board represent a careful and thorough evaluation of all the risks, not just to students, but to host families, volunteers, and Rotary’s reputation. We state unequivocally that student safety is our top priority and these safety guidelines represent our commitment in words and actions. Even though the list of guidelines seems long, it is important to follow them in order to evaluate the risks carefully, have a plan, and instill confidence in students, families, and your community. Many of the guidelines are safety precautions that you may already be following or may have quickly adopted in response to COVID-19. In accordance with Rotary’s youth protection policies for unauthorized exchange activity, any district found to be participating in any exchange activity contrary to this guidance during 2020-21 will have its certification to participate in Rotary Youth Exchange suspended for a period of two years. Any activity that puts students at risk will have serious repercussions.

Q: I’m a student, and I want to do a Rotary Youth Exchange. What should I do?

A: Complete our Contact Us form or find a local Rotary club to find out if it is planning exchanges this year. Even if the club isn’t participating in Rotary Youth Exchange this year, you can find out about planning an exchange for next year or learn more about how to get involved in Rotary through Interact, Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA), or New Generations Service Exchange. 

Q: Who should I contact if I have questions?

A: Write to Direct youth protection questions or concerns to


Rotary Peace Fellowships and other programs

Q: How are Rotary Peace Fellowships impacted by the pandemic? 

A: Due to the current pandemic situation, funded travel is highly restricted and will be approved on a case-by-case basis. Fellows currently in a country experiencing the spread of COVID-19 are advised to follow the recommendations of your host university and the country’s national health agencies. 

For first-year fellows preparing for your applied field experience, we recommend you consider options in your study country and have an alternate plan in place in case travel is restricted further. Beyond health and safety concerns, we do not want fellows to be subject to quarantines or have challenges returning to the country where you study because of your field experience travel. You can contact your staff specialist with specific questions about how Rotary’s policy may affect your field experience planning.

Q: What should I know about Interact and Rotary Youth Leadership Awards (RYLA) during this time? 

A: Consider whether planned events, trips, or local activities could expose young people to an increased risk, and consider canceling or postponing nonessential travel or large gatherings. 

Follow the guidance of schools for any closures or delayed start times that may affect school-based program participants. Discuss how they can stay engaged and safe until school resumes. Talk with parents or guardians about their child’s health and safety and what Rotary clubs and districts are doing to minimize the exposure and impact for participants in Rotary activities and events. 

Q: What should I know about other types of Rotary programs and exchanges?

A: Participants in Rotary Fellowships and Rotary Action Groups and their affiliated chapters should follow recommendations from the World Health Organization and the host region’s national, regional, or local health authorities when considering whether to cancel or postpone events, meetings, or activities.

Districts organizing international programs such as Rotary Friendship Exchanges and New Generations Service Exchanges could expose participants to an increased risk. Organizers should follow the guidelines set by the World Health Organization and the national, regional, or local health authorities of participating districts when considering whether to cancel or postpone planned trips or activities.


Rotary-funded travel

Q: What do I need to know about my Rotary-funded travel?

A: Any Rotary-funded travel, including grant recipients and Rotary Peace Fellows, will be approved on a case-by-case basis. Direct additional questions about Rotary-funded travel to your appropriate program officer.