Ramstein’s ‘COVID Armada' is equipped to shuttle passengers in safety
By JENNIFER H. SVAN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: May 12, 2020
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RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — Air Force buses are still in regular service shuttling air crews and other personnel around the base, but the ride is very different these days.
The 86th Vehicle Readiness Squadron is turning its vans and buses into what has been dubbed the “COVID Armada.”
“It started off as a kind of a joke,” said Master Sgt. Cullen Numsen, the squadron’s ground transportation flight superintendent. “Someone called it that, and now, it’s like OK, that’s what it is.”
The squadron transports on average about 70 to 100 passengers daily using about 20 vehicles, and it needed a way to protect people from potential coronavirus exposure.
The solution turned out to be protective barriers, seat coverings, social distancing, face masks and lots of disinfecting.
“We’ve always cleaned vehicles,” Numsen said, but not “to this level.”
The first two rows of seats are blocked off and a soft, clear plastic sheet barrier is fixed to the ceiling behind the driver.
The sheeting costs about 500 euros, or about $540, for 60 square meters. “It’s simple yet really effective,” Numsen said.
When passengers use buses with only one door, the driver waits outside to reduce contact.
After the passengers leave, the vinyl seats on the squadron’s Blue Bird buses are disinfected. The handrails, steering wheel and other areas are also wiped down, Numsen said.
The cloth seats on the squadron’s Iveco buses — the same buses the Germans use off base — initially presented a disinfecting conundrum, until the airmen found a plastic disposable seat cover that did the job.
“It almost looks like a garbage bag except it’s molded to fit on the seat,” Numsen said.
Bus drivers and passengers wear face masks; only one passenger is allowed per each two-seater and they sit on opposite sides of every row. Buses that once carried up to 44 people now transport at most about 20, Numsen said.
So far, the precautions seem to be working. Two drivers with cold-like symptoms tested negative for COVID-19.
“I think we have a great team,” Numsen said. “We try to stay ready and we can roll with whatever needs come about.”
Front row seats inside a government bus at Ramstein Air Base, Germany, May 12, 2020, are blocked off to put some distance between passengers and the driver. The 86th Vehicle Readiness Squadron has adjusted the way it transports passengers due to the coronavirus pandemic.
JENNIFER H. SVAN/STARS AND STRIPES