US arrivals bump coronavirus cases at some Europe bases higher

Spc. Thomas Ashworth, medical technician, uses a nasal swab to test a patient for coronavirus at the COVID-19 clinic at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, Germany, March 20, 2020. Stuttgart has seen a slight uptick in coronavirus cases due to people coming from the United States.


By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: July 10, 2020

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STUTTGART, Germany — Coronavirus case numbers have risen slightly at the Army garrison in Stuttgart and elsewhere in Europe because of personnel arriving from the United States, where new cases have skyrocketed in recent weeks.

There were some new cases over the past two weeks, said garrison commander Col. Jason Condrey, whose comments were in line with a Pentagon policy that prevents local commands from reporting precise totals, but allows leaders to speak in general terms.

“With only one exception, the common trend among all of them is travel to the U.S. and back, or from the United States,” Condrey said during a Thursday virtual town hall meeting.

“That trend has also been the same as I talk to my peers across other garrisons throughout Europe,” he added.

Overseas military bases in the Pacific theater also have seen increased case numbers. Nine stateside arrivals recently tested positive, U.S. Forces Korea said Friday.

While commands in Europe say they are restricted from providing exact new infection numbers, their counterparts in the Pacific routinely do so due to differences in interpretation of the Pentagon policy.

The summer is peak travel time for the U.S. military as troops and Defense Department civilians move to new assignments. While the European Union has banned Americans from travel to member states, military personnel and family members, essential workers and long-term residents are among those exempt from the restrictions.

Personnel must enter quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in Germany, in line with national rules.

In Stuttgart, home to U.S. European and Africa Commands, the military has seen a sharp reduction in cases since the initial outbreak in the spring, which resulted in 103 coronavirus cases within the garrison by early April. At the time, no other overseas military community had reported more cases than Stuttgart.

In response, the garrison imposed strict social distancing rules, increased testing and mandated masks be worn in public places.

The result was a dramatic reduction in reported cases, which led Stuttgart on June 4 to ease its health threat level to condition Bravo, signaling a moderate risk of transmission and the return of garrison services. Stuttgart was the first Army garrison in Europe to relax its threat level.

If precautions like social distancing and donning masks were in place from the start, “our community wouldn’t have experienced a lot of the cases that it did,” Condrey said.

Twitter: @john_vandiver

Col. Jason Condrey, Stuttgart garrison commander, said during a July 9, 2020, virtual town hall meeting that there has been a slight uptick in coronavirus cases at the garrison, mostly due to stateside arrivals.