CRAILSHEIM, Germany — As of Tuesday afternoon, there were more than 378,500 reported cases of COVID-19 worldwide, and while many are experiencing a mild form of the virus, the death toll reached has now reached 16,505 from the severe acute respiratory syndrome.
In Worthington’s sister city of Crailsheim, Germany, response to the virus is quite similar to what has happened locally — schools are closed, restaurants and theaters are shuttered, events are cancelled, social distancing is encouraged and groups of no more than two people are now allowed to gather together.
“Churches no longer provide services. Funerals are held with as few people as possible … weddings are postponed,” shared Ute Bartels, a reporter for Crailsheim’s newspaper, the Hohenloher Tagblatt, in a Monday email to The Globe. Bakeries, grocery stores and pharmacies remain open, while companies work in shifts, she added.
A drive-up COVID-19 test center opened last Thursday in a vacant factory building in the city, testing only those individuals receiving doctor’s orders to do so. As of Tuesday, nine patients were being treated in a quarantine ward of the Crailsheim hospital, Bartels shared.
In the district of Schwäbisch Hall, which includes Crailsheim, there were 145 positive cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday. In the adjacent Hohenlohekreis district, the number of positive cases has risen from 29 on March 16 to 219 on Tuesday, Bartels said. Two deaths have been reported there. Meanwhile ,the state of Baden-Württemberg reported Tuesday 31 deaths due to COVID-19.
“One of our members of parliament, Stefan Brauer, is in hospital and gets oxygen supply, but does not need artificial respiration (yet),” Bartels said. “He is feeling rather poorly and says that he can understand now why the virus can cause death. He was born in 1970 and is quite fit, so it is not always the elderly who have to go to hospital.”
Mariah Hennings, seven months into her year-long stay in Crailsheim as Worthington High School’s exchange student, said she and her host family are playing lots of games like Uno and Rummy to pass the time as they isolate in their home.
Schools will be closed there for at least another two weeks, and Hennings receives assignments from teachers through email.
“it’s a bit scary for my family as we realize this might not be finished when it’s time for me to come home," Hennings said.
“We are not worrying about safety or sickness as we know I can take precautions and be careful, but we cannot help it if there is a travel ban in place that prevents me from coming home,” she added. “What’s happening right now is a worst-case scenario that I promised my parents wouldn’t happen, and we are working through the tough times.
“I hope you guys are staying safe and healthy, and hopefully I will see you in August."
Christoph Salinger, a Crailsheim resident who interned as a teacher at Worthington High School in 2018 and has visited the community twice since then, was prepared to take his state exams this spring, but those are now on hold. He hopes a trip to Worthington in August will still happen.
“For me and my fiance, everything is fine,” he shared via email. “She is working from our home, and I have more days to learn for my state exams.”
Salinger worried, however, that if people ignored the warnings of social distancing, there could be a total shutdown and people would be forbidden to leave their house.
“In my opinion, the ‘laws’ we were given are fine because we should work together with the government to get rid of that stupid virus,” Salinger wrote.
Bartels said a “contact ban” was instituted on Monday in Germany, requiring a distance of at least 1.5 meters between individuals in public.
“The situation here is quiet, very quiet even,” she said. “Germany has very early been aware of the problem of overcrowded hospitals, thanks to the situation in Italy. So, measures have been taken.”
Bartels told of the Crailsheim music school, which is now instructing students via the internet. Each week the students are asked to prepare the same piece of music, and then at noon on Sundays, they perform it at an open window of their home.
“Yesterday it was the ‘Ode to Joy’ by Beethoven,” Bartels shared, noting the students were instructed to take a video of their performance and send it to the school. The headmaster will then combine the videos into one to share on the internet.
“Next Sunday they will perform an Italian spring song, 'L’inverno è passato.,' Bartels continued. "This is to tell the Italian friends who die in their overcrowded clinics: Spring is coming, you are not alone.”
Bartels said the German people are confident and hope the restrictions were started in time to flatten the curve for their health care system to be able to cope.
Elfriede Kohr, who has visited Worthington several times, offered a “friendly hello from Crailsheim” and said she and her family are thus far doing fine.
Kohr said she began noticing COVID-19’s impact in late January, when a group of Chinese business partners cancelled a trip to Crailsheim.
By early March, when Crailsheim selected its new exchange student to Worthington, Kohr noticed fewer hugs and handshakes. Already, people were buying items in bulk. The local Aldi had empty shelves where toilet paper, paper towels, rice, noodles and flour once were stocked.
Now asked to stay home, it’s difficult for Kohr, who loves visiting with people. She and her husband, Wolfgang, aren’t even able to see their grandchildren out of precaution.
“Our hearts are heavy because from birth, our grandchildren were part of our daily lives,” she shared.
Seeing Crailsheim look like a “ghost town” is also hard for Kohr, who is worried about the unknown.
“Three months ago, who would have envisioned this drama? If we would only awaken from a bad dream,” she said. “Please take care of yourselves and take this situation seriously. Stay home and only celebrate when this nightmare has passed. Hugs to all of you.”