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US military community in Kaiserslautern may be coronavirus hot spot as cases surge around Germany

U.S. military personnel visit the Kaiserslautern Military Community Center Oct. 6, 2020, at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. The U.S. military community is emerging as a hotspot for new coronavirus infections in the Kaiserslautern area, where the health warning system was elevated on Oct. 9, 2020, to the second-highest level after a sudden spike in cases, district officials said.

JENNIFER H. SVAN/STARS AND STRIPES

By JOHN VANDIVER AND MARCUS KLOECKNER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 9, 2020

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The U.S. military community was being eyed Friday as a hot spot for new coronavirus infections in the Kaiserslautern area, where the health warning system was raised to the second-highest level after a sudden spike in cases, district officials said.

The number of cases in the area more than doubled this week, with health officials reporting 59 new infections from Wednesday to Thursday. Two days earlier, there had been a total of 54 cases reported in the Kaiserslautern area, which is home to tens of thousands of Americans affiliated with the military.

The city of Kaiserslautern itself remained at the yellow alert level, a step lower than the broader region, district officials said in a statement released late Friday.

The increase in the number of cases “can largely be traced back to clearly defined ‘infection events’ in the catering sector and family celebrations ... especially in Landstuhl and Ramstein-Miesenbach,” the statement said. Both towns are near Ramstein Air Base.

A German official told Stars and Stripes on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the matter that the U.S. military community is being eyed as a hot spot for the surge in new infections.

Measures to try to stem the spread of the virus were immediately put in place, particularly in Landstuhl and Ramstein-Miesenbach, which the statement described as “the two municipalities hardest hit” by the surge in cases.

“There will be more controls by the regulatory authorities, especially on weekends,” it said. “The catering sector is particularly advised to comply with the applicable provisions for running a restaurant — hygiene regulations, distance rules, contact tracing.” U.S. military police and German law enforcement were expected to step up patrols in the area to ensure people are complying with social distancing and other virus prevention rules.

“We will check to see if people are wearing their masks and keeping their distance,” said Bernhard Christian Erfort, a Kaiserslautern police spokesman.

The sudden increase in case numbers in the Kaiserslautern area, which is home to tens of thousands of Americans affiliated with the military, was due in part to the fact that the military had submitted multiple reports of new infections late, and all at once, to local officials, German health authorities said.

Gino Mattorano, spokesman for Regional Health Command Europe, said the military does its best to provide timely information, but due to a number of factors, which he did not explain, there can be delays in reporting.

“We will continue to work to improve the reporting process to minimize delays and provide the most comprehensive, accurate information to our host nation partners,” he said. “We value and appreciate the outstanding relationship we have with the Kaiserslautern community.”

The Kaiserslautern district health department, which is responsible for areas that include several U.S. Army bases and Ramstein Air Base, did not detail how many of the new cases were in military members. Officials said earlier this week that eight of the 14 new infections were in members of the military community.

U.S. military police and German law enforcement were expected to step up patrols in the area to ensure people are complying with social distancing and other virus prevention rules.

New cases have increased sharply across Germany this week, which on Thursday reported 4,058 new infections. The hardest hit cities n southwestern Germany, where the majority of U.S. bases are located, are Frankfurt and Esslingen, which have been labeled as “extreme risk” areas for the coronavirus.

U.S. Army Garrison Rheinland-Pfalz warned against travel to Frankfurt in a message posted on Facebook.

“FRANKFURT is now RED (High Risk for COVID infection), according to RKI,” it said, referring to Germany’s public health agency, the Robert Koch Institute.

“Your plans should not include the Frankfurt metro area,” the Facebook message said..

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Friday after meeting with the mayors of Germany’s 11 biggest cities that tougher measures against the virus, including stricter rules on face masks and social distancing, would be imposed immediately if more than 50 cases per 100,000 inhabitants are reported in an area over the course of a week. Frankfurt has already exceeded that case load, according to Deutsche Welle.

Other measures that could be imposed to prevent a second wave of the virus in Germany include curfews, restrictions on the sale of alcohol, and limits on public and private gatherings.

vandiver.john@stripes.com
Twitter: @john_vandiver

kloeckner.marcus@stripes.com

People walk down Marktstrasse in downtown Kaiserslautern, Germany in late August 2020. A spike in coronavirus cases in Kaiserslautern led health officials to raise the health alert for the city to the second-highest level on Oct. 9, 2020.
MICHAEL ABRAMS/STARS AND STRIPES