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'I Woke Up In the Epicenter of the Pandemic'

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empty food court 1200
(Dee Crawford/DVIDS)

March 13, we shared the first piece in military spouse Raquel Thiebes' story of living in Germany, waiting on a PCS and navigating COVID-19. This morning that story developed further.

I woke up this morning to discover we are now part of the 'epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic.' It’s something I certainly don't want to be a part of but obviously don't have a choice or voice in the matter. Along with this unwanted news, we now have two confirmed COVID-19 positive tests in our military community.

This just got real … and close.

Yesterday the talk was all about the schools and asking when they would close. Once the Germans closed the schools and kindergartens in our area, DODEA and the garrison swiftly closed ours. From then on, it has been a big whirlwind of announcements and updates. I am trying to keep up with both German and garrison news, as I speak German and help translate for my friends.

The Local Community

We now have over 827 cases in Baden-Wuerttemberg, and the rate continues to climb. Our city took quick action and closed movie theaters, clubs, bars, museums. It later added fitness centers to its ban. The government reiterated that restaurants, banks, grocery stores and pharmacies would remain open.

I had someone ask me about the big indoor market hall downtown. I checked the webcam around lunchtime and could only see five or six people. No one answered the phone at the market hall. I called the Italian restaurant inside, and the sweet young lady almost shouted into the phone, "Yes, we are open and PLEASE tell your friends!"

Even on Sundays, when shops are traditionally closed in Germany, you still see more people making their way through downtown. But not today. Is this the new norm?

The Changes

Back on post, I noticed a line of cars waiting to get inside as I walked my dog nearby. I overheard personnel stopping vehicles before they got to the front gate and asking occupants pertinent questions about their health. Depending on how they answered, they were to check in at our "little red box" and the grouping of tents over by our medical clinic.

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A sign directing entrants to the COVID-19 screening area. (Raquel Thiebes)

It's good to see something done to get people screened and tested. The personnel also reminded those coming in about 'social distancing' and limiting contact with others.

As my dog and I walked by the commissary, after seeing only two other families out and about on foot, a big-rig truck was already pulling up to the back. I hoped it contained disinfectant wipes and hand sanitizer. I have not seen these items for sale in any store for at least five days now.

The commissary parking lot was full, but the second lot was not, so perhaps they had finally gotten some breathing room to restock.

I walked by the gym -- which is now closed -- as well as the thrift shop. The food courts have no chairs or tables to encourage take out.

I heard a sergeant major lamenting he'd look like a hippy by next week, as there was no one in the barbershop. Things are closing so quickly, it's hard to keep up!

The Upside

As in any crisis that involves military families, I see many bright spots. It's more than the morning sun that dared to make an appearance after weeks of mostly rain. Something beautiful is happening in our community. Spouses are talking about setting up a lending library. One of our librarians is trying to figure out how to give military members online access to content who don't already have their library PINs set up. That's something you usually have to do in person.

A few spouses have offered to go shopping for those unable to leave their homes. Others have offered food from their pantry to make sure no child goes hungry. With school closed, there is no more access to free and reduced lunch for those in the program. Many are sharing homeschooling resources and projects to do at home.

Even though the child development centers and after-school programs are currently running, some parents have offered to watch children if needed. The parenting network and sense of community are strong.

Even in the commissary, those in line show solidarity while you run and fill your cart with missed items or use the restroom. A friend has been trying to find an elderly veteran who frequently gets rides from members of the community when he visits the garrison. Even in our community of thousands, he is not forgotten.

What About Tomorrow?

I know the commands have been working out a system where service members and civilians can work together but not in close proximity, and perhaps not even at the same time. Social distancing is being brought into the workplace. Their essential work continues even at a time with such challenges and unknowns. I'm confident this crisis will bring out the best in my community, and I'm sure tomorrow will bring more opportunities for all of us to step up and look forward. We wish those stateside all the best, and I am confident in your strength too.

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