Ramstein leaders discuss extended lockdown, COVID-19 vaccine

Leaders from Ramstein Air Base hosted a virtual Town Hall Monday to address Germany’s extended lockdown measures and the base’s COVID-19 vaccination efforts.

With COVID-19 cases trending in the wrong direction, German officials announced more restrictive mitigation measures effective Jan. 11 and lasting until the end of the month. Four wing leaders went live via Ramstein’s Facebook page to provide an overview and answer questions.

Further limiting social contacts is a cornerstone of the newest effort to curb the spread. 86th Airlift Wing Command Chief Hope Skibitsky told those tuning in that members should reduce social gatherings to one household plus a maximum of one additional person not living in that household.

“We know that extended lockdowns can weigh heavily on people; it adds stress to everyone. We just need to support one another and continue to find ways to [virtually] connect,” said Skibitsky.

Brig. Gen. Josh Olson, 86th AW commander, clarified that social gatherings differ from workplace settings.  The state permits employees to continue working in locations that remain open and operating. However, Olson said the base continues to encourage teleworking and split shifts as much as feasible, minimizing in-person meetings, shrinking close contact circles, and wearing face coverings to promote a safe and healthy work environment.

Another change applies to travelers returning from a high risk area. Skibitsky explained that Rheinland-Pfalz now requires travelers to take a COVID-19 test either 48 hours before, or immediately after, returning to Germany. A quarantine is still required even if the test returns a negative result.

A detailed list of guidelines impacting the Kaiserslautern Military Community can be found in the English translation of Rheinland-Pfalz Ordinance 15. That document and many of the most relevant changes are summarized on Ramstein’s COVID-19 page.

Col. Robert Thompson, 86th Mission Support Group commander, explained that services which were shut down or impacted by the previous “lockdown light” will remain that way until Jan. 31. Personnel can visit the 86th Force Support Squadron’s website for a thorough list of status updates.

Thompson said local DoDEA schools will continue remote learning for the rest of the month with Air Force Child Development centers remaining open at a reduced capacity due to staffing and COVID-19 safety protocols.

“Right now we are only able to accommodate our single and deployed Airmen families and [children of our] first responders and medical providers,” he said.

Col. (Dr.) Ryan Mihata, 86th Medical Group commander, joined the discussion with updates about the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine. Mihata has become a familiar face on Ramstein’s social media sites as he recently chronicled his experience receiving a first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.

A frequent question posed by commenters was how Airmen and families know when it is their turn for the COVID-19 vaccine.

At the time of the town hall, Mihata said Ramstein was in Phase 1A of the DoD phased vaccine distribution plan, which includes first responders and frontline medical personnel.  The base has since transitioned to Phase 1B, which expands eligibility to different categories of people including personnel preparing to deploy, teachers, child and youth services staff, postal service staff, and food handlers.

Mihata said personnel will be notified through their chain of command and the Ramstein Facebook page when other phases of distribution become available. There is a chart on Ramstein’s COVID-19 vaccine page that provides additional information about the distribution phases.

Commenters also asked what to do about individuals who aren’t complying with COVID-19 mitigation measures on the installation.

“A lot of what we are doing here requires good citizenship,” said Thompson. “We are asking folks to do the right thing.”

He reminded viewers that personnel are subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice if they are not abiding by the signed General Order that outlines rules for quarantine and mitigation.

Olson echoed Thompson’s sentiments, emphasizing that it is okay to speak up if you see someone not abiding by the measures.

In closing, Olson acknowledged that an extended lockdown is not how anyone was hoping to kick off 2021, but he’s optimistic that together we, along with our host nation partners, can defeat COVID-19 and return to a sense of normalcy.

For information about upcoming Town Halls, host nation regulations, and a list of Frequently Asked Questions and installation guidance, visit https://www.ramstein.af.mil/COVID-19/.

For information about the COVID-19 vaccine and distribution plan and list of Frequently Asked Questions, visit https://www.ramstein.af.mil/COVID-19-Vaccine-Information/.