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Doc’s Medical Minute: Update on virus variants, self-testing, travel

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 --

Virus variants continue to spread across Europe.  Initial sampling shows that local positive cases may be up to 30-40% variant.  As I mentioned last time, the variant seems to spread more easily and affect younger adults more significantly than the original strain.  Simultaneously, Germany and Europe have seen a rise in case counts over the past four weeks after several weeks of down trending numbers.  While Kaiserslautern City and County have done very well recently, the overall German numbers are up to 107 cases per 100,000 people. 

Rheinland-Pfalz issued a new ordinance last weekend permitting restaurants to open outdoor seating.  There is a requirement for customers to be tested within the last 24 hours and to provide proof of a negative COVID test.  Self-test kits are available on the economy in local shops and grocery stores.  The clinic is not offering this testing, as we are only open for testing when sick or ill, required testing for release from quarantine or restriction of movement, and for official travel/emergency leave testing. 

Prevention measures continue to be very important.  We are again seeing a concerning trend where individuals are going to work or school with symptoms.  If you have any symptoms, stay home and contact your treating clinic for directions.  Some people have come to work and school with symptoms and have caused work centers and school classes to be quarantined.  Please continue the prevention measures that have kept us safe thus far.

On the vaccine front, we are still in Tier 1B.  I share your frustration as there are several states in the United States that have opened up the vaccine to Tier 2.  We simply do not have sufficient supply here to do that yet.  We are vaccinating some key and essential personnel (identified by commanders) and some “high risk” patients in Tier 1C, but do not yet have sufficient supply to open to all Tier 1C.  I am hopeful that in the weeks to come, the vaccine supply will become more abundant. 

Finally, Spring Break is coming.  Even though we all want to travel, there are high risk and virus variant areas all around us.  Even inside Germany, risk is pretty high right now.  All travel remains highly discouraged.  If you decide to travel despite the risks, be aware there are significant testing requirements; for example, for those who travel to a virus variant area, the COVID test prior to your return must be accomplished within 48 hours of arrival into Germany and you must quarantine for 14 days upon return, with no test out option.  As always, you can find more information at www.ramstein.af.mil/COVID-19/.

Please stay safe and healthy.  Wear your face coverings, wash your hands and keep your distance!