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Doc’s Medical Minute: Update on medical mask policy, support from volunteers

Airman smiling in a doctor's coat.

Medical Minute by U.S. Air Force Col. Ryan Mihata, 86th Medical Group commander, at Ramstein Air Base, Germany. (U.S. Air Force graphic by Regina Burbidge)

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany --

This week the installation implemented the host nation’s medical mask policy. Now certain establishments both in the local community as well as on base require a higher-level mask than just the fabric face covering. Examples on base include the KMCC, Commissaries, Shoppette, Post Office, places of worship, and the Ramstein Law Center. Surgical masks or higher level such as KN95 or FFP2 masks are needed when using these customer service establishments. These requirements were put in place to decrease risk in public areas where maintaining physical distance is difficult. While case counts in the community and on base are lower than the height of this wave, they remain higher than the 50 cases per 100,000 people mark. You can keep up with the most recent info by visiting https://www.ramstein.af.mil/COVID-19/.      

Monday also marked the start of COVID “shot #2” for those first responders and frontline personnel on Ramstein who received the first dose in January. Check out Ramstein’s official Facebook page to view short videos of my personal experience with the second dose. Mild side effects like arm pain, headaches and fatigue are all very normal and represent the immune system’s effectiveness when exposed to this second vaccine. Data published in December in the New England Journal of Medicine on the Moderna vaccine is pretty striking: 94-95% effective in preventing symptomatic and severe COVID-19, and 100% effective in preventing death (no one in the study period died from COVID-19).  I highly encourage everyone to get the vaccine, once it is available to your phase.  You can see where Ramstein is in the phased distribution by visiting https://www.ramstein.af.mil/COVID-19-Vaccine-Information/.

Another new requirement that I mentioned last week is the testing requirement for travel back to the United States. Based on direction from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, commercial airlines are requiring a negative COVID-19 test prior to allowing you to board a flight back to the United States. The 86th Medical Group is providing this testing for official travel only, from 7:30-10:00 a.m. at the Ramstein Enlisted Club.  Since we are still in the midst of a pandemic, non-official travel is highly discouraged.  If you need a test for non-official travel, there are a few locations in the local community that will perform this for a fee.

We are all in this together. I want to specifically thank the Airman and Family Readiness Center and the Key Spouses for starting a volunteer sign up to support health care efforts. We recognize that lots of folks want to join the fight against COVID-19. We started using volunteers for manpower and administrative tasks at the COVID shot line and will slowly expand from there to use volunteers across the 86th Medical Group. We initially started with only the next three weeks, as capacity is limited by the days we are running the line. Stay tuned for more opportunities. We recognize the value of your time, and greatly appreciate the volunteers’ willingness to join us in the fight. Anyone (not just spouses) can volunteer; however, some situations will require specific training in advance. Currently, we are only open to those 18 and older, but stay tuned for all your teens that need volunteer hours or perhaps want to learn more about the medical profession. 

Stay safe and healthy!