Virtual town hall answers community questions

Amidst a downward trend in local COVID-19 cases, the 86th Airlift Wing command team hosted a virtual town hall to discuss the current situation and answer questions from the community via the Ramstein Official Facebook page Feb. 18.

Brig. Gen. Josh Olson, 86th AW commander, and Command Chief Master Sgt. Hope Skibitsky, sat down to bring clarity to how recently implemented German changes would impact the base and the surrounding Kaiserslautern Military Community.

Joining them for the half-hour discussion was 86th Mission Support Group commander, Col. Robert Thompson, and the 86th Medical Group Public Health Emergency Officer, Lt. Col. (Dr.) Jaime Rojas.

Olson was happy to open up the discussion by informing the audience that local COVID-19 cases were trending in the right direction.

“Because of that discipline and because of these numbers, we are now being able to come off of some of these restrictions,” Olson said.

Department of Defense Education Activity schools on Air Force installations in the KMC planned to return to in-person school the following Monday along with German schools in Rheinland-Pfalz.

“To date, there have been no cases of COVID-19 transmission from student-to-student or teacher-to-student in any of our DoDEA schools across the KMC. Our teams and the staff have done a phenomenal job at keeping our schools clean and reacting and adapting to the changing conditions,” Thompson said.

Thompson described the entire operation as a team effort and thanked both school staff and parents for working together during the unique situations COVID-19 has presented.

During the town hall, subject matter experts highlighted different aspects of host nation restrictions in place and thanked the community for their discipline.

“Our numbers are the lowest they’ve been since August,” Dr. Rojas said, describing Ramstein cases.

“Everyone has worked diligently and sacrificed family outings, get-togethers, and holidays,” Rojas continued.

Kaiserslautern County’s case numbers are the lowest they’ve been since October 2020. Skibitsky also noted that while local numbers are trending downward, lockdown measures are currently extended through March 7. Social gatherings still remain limited, and Germany has released new classifications for international risk areas.

Below are summarized answers to questions asked during the event.

Does getting the COVID-19 vaccine allow you to travel and avoid quarantine or other restrictions?

Currently, no. Department of Defense and German travel guidance do not allow for exceptions to the policy regarding travel. While we do know the vaccine is effective in preventing COVID-19 symptoms, the ability to prevent the spread of COVID-19 remains to be seen. Travel restrictions still remain in place to prevent possible asymptomatic spread of the virus.

Where should members go to get outbound pre-travel rapid testing if traveling immediately after a long weekend? Does the rapid-testing center close on holidays that take place on a weekday?

Rapid COVID-19 (antigen) testing is available at our walk-in clinic at the E-club. It is open Monday through Friday, from 7:30 to 10:00 a.m., even on a holiday..

What is the regulation for school-age children (6-14 years old) mask covering in Ramstein Air Base schools?

All students are required to have face coverings while attending physical instruction. DoDEA schools are not requiring medical masks at this time.

We’ve seen DOD and Headquarters Air Force release policy memos recently about face coverings being required all the time on military installations. Has there been any change to the installation’s face covering policy?

Our current base policy for face coverings/medical masks does meet the intent of guidance passed down from higher headquarters. To keep it simple, if you’re sharing space, cover your face. Exceptions are made for those actively engaged in physical training. Visit RAB’s official COVID-19 webpage for more information.

Can you please clarify the face covering policy for parks and playgrounds on base?

If proper physical distancing cannot be maintained, everybody seven years and older should be wearing a face covering.

Now that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control recently stated people who have been fully vaccinated shouldn’t have to quarantine, will there be a consideration of easing the current quarantine requirements on base and follow the CDC’s recommendation?

As guests in our host nation, we must comply with local requirements. Until those requirements change, we’ll remain in line with current German guidance regarding quarantine restrictions.

Will base visitor passes be allowed again soon?

We are looking at that possibility on a very regular basis. If we stay at our current low incidence rate, we can anticipate seeing base passes opening up again on March 1.

The full virtual town hall video can be viewed on the Ramstein Air Base Facebook page. Visit the Ramstein COVID-19 webpage for the most up-to-date information.