Stuttgart, Spangdahlem step up coronavirus restrictions after spike in cases around Germany
By JOHN VANDIVER AND KARIN ZEITVOGEL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 12, 2020
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STUTTGART, Germany — A sharp increase in coronavirus cases in Stuttgart over the weekend has forced officials to raise the health threat in the city to Germany’s highest level and to order new restrictions on social gatherings.
“We have to act decisively now to get the number of new infections down again immediately,” Stuttgart Mayor Fritz Kuhn said in a statement Sunday.
Stricter health measures also were put into place at Spangdahlem Air Base after the county it’s in also was raised to the red alert level.
“The county of Bitburg-Pruem is now considered a hot spot with 67 cases per 100,000 population,” Col. David Epperson, commander of the 52nd Fighter Wing at Spangdahlem, said in a video posted on Facebook on Monday, announcing that he was putting the base at HPCON Bravo.
About 28,000 Americans with ties to the military live in the Stuttgart area, which is home to the Army’s Europe and Africa commands. Some 5,000 military personnel and U.S. contractors work at Spangdahlem. Restrictions imposed by the authorities in Stuttgart or Bitburg-Pruem also apply to U.S. military personnel and their families, many of whom live off base, and Defense Department civilians.
The health threat in Stuttgart was elevated to red after 82 new cases were reported from Saturday to Sunday, pushing the district above the infection rate of 50 cases per 100,000 inhabitants during a 7-day period. That’s the level at which Germany’s public health agency, the Robert Koch Institute, raises the alert status for a city or district to the highest level.
“The trend seems to be intensifying,” the city said in a statement.
Case numbers are rising so rapidly that the city can no longer do effective contact tracing, “which is so important for controlling the pandemic,” the head of Stuttgart’s health department said in the statement.
“We are therefore mobilizing all forces within the city administration and are requesting help from the German army,” Prof. Stefan Ehehalt said.
Starting Wednesday, celebrations will be restricted to 10 participants in private venues and 25 people in rented or public spaces, the statement said.
Masks will be required in all public areas in the city center. Restrictions on the sale and consumption of alcohol downtown also are expected to be beefed up, but details were still being hashed out Monday. Bars in Stuttgart currently can’t serve beverages after 11 p.m. and shop sales must stop by 9 p.m.
The neighboring county of Esslingen has been at the red alert level since last week.
Although Spangdahlem has not seen an uptick in cases, Epperson called for supervisors to allow telework “in non-mission-impacting positions,” and for all personnel to practice good hygiene and social-distancing measures. Base officials are waiting to see what restrictions county officials plan to impose in the area before issuing written guidance to help the military community limit the spread of the virus, Epperson said. The county is expected to come up with its action plan in the coming days.
The rise in coronavirus cases in both areas mirrors what is happening in communities across Germany, including those that are home to Americans affiliated with the military.
The threat status in the Kaiserslautern district, which includes Ramstein Air Base and several Army installations and is home to tens of thousands of Americans, was raised to the second-highest level — orange — last week after a jump in cases. The city of Kaiserslautern remained at a lower alert level, but the nearby district that houses the town of St. Wendel went red during the weekend.
Most of the recent cases at Ramstein were “locally contracted or from travel within Europe,” Lt. Col. Will Powell, chief of public affairs for the 86th Airlift Wing at Ramstein Air Base, said in a statement Sunday.
In its daily coronavirus update on Sunday, RKI included travelers in the groups that have seen clusters of cases of the virus. Many in the U.S. military community in Germany were believed to be traveling during the long holiday weekend.
The district in Bavaria that includes the Army’s Grafenwoehr Training Area, where U.S. troops and militaries from NATO allies and partner nations train, is on orange alert for the virus. Wiesbaden is also on orange alert, but Frankfurt, which is immediately next door, is on red alert.
Garrison commander Col. Jason Condrey urged the Stuttgart military community, which registered more coronavirus cases than any overseas base when the outbreak first hit Germany in the spring and summer, to remain vigilant as cases rise again.
“We must be mindful of illness. We must wear masks,” Condrey said. “We must keep our distance. We must wash our hands.”
People exit a pedestrian underpass in the Stuttgart city center on Monday, Oct. 12, 2020, hours after officials raised the health threat level to red following a sharp rise in the number of coronavirus cases. Face masks will be required in downtown Stuttgart starting Wednesday, as officials toughen up restrictions to try to stem the spread of the virus.
JOHN VANDIVER/STARS AND STRIPES