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German village has communal approach to lessen community spread of COVID-19

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Nikos Gassman, a volunteer with Wir Gegen Corona makes a delivery to the home of an at-risk German during the COVID-19 outbreak

EDITOR'S NOTE: Kellie Jones is the sister of Richland Source reporter Noah Jones.

ESCHWEGE, Germany -- A village in Germany may have found a way to reduce community spread of the COVID-19 virus as European countries continue to battle with the global pandemic.

Wir Gegen Corona, German for 'Us Against Corona,' is a local hotline serving those the World Health Organization has categorized as most at risk: the elderly, those with respiratory issues and pregnant women. The group also will not turn down anyone who calls.

Leonie Bierent

Leonie Bierent

"The idea of it is to help at-risk community members with their groceries, and essentials needed to survive," said Leonie Bierent, 25, head board member of Wir Gegen Corona. "There are many organizations in Germany trying to help those most at risk."

The Eschwege village operation, has a network of about 65 volunteers who bring needed goods to those who call in to the hotline.

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A map of Germany. In red, the state of Hesse, where Eschwege is located.

"We offer a grocery shopping delivery service and we go to the pharmacy for people," Bierent said, through a translator.

Mostly young adults are joining the group's efforts, Bierent said.

The operation works by having someone call the hotline and request a good. A volunteer will go to the store and purchase the goods and leave the item outside the customer's residence.

Bierent said there is no in-person contact between the customer and the shopper.

"We sat down with a doctor to create our process to make sure that we were reducing our risk and the risk to the risk demographics as much as possible," she said. "The customer leaves money outside in an envelope for the shopper to use on the purchases."

Wir Gegen Corona is not making any money off these efforts, said Kellie Jones, who answers hotline calls from those in need and dispatches a volunteer to aid them.

"It's not about money,” the 30-year-old Jones said. "It's more philanthropic. We want to add to the welfare."

Kellie Jones

Kellie Jones

Because this organization has no funding from the government or grants, Bierent said she hopes to continue the service for about a month longer, then revisit the needs of the community.

"The plan is that the program will continue until April 20th. Should the program be necessary for a longer period, I could imagine that people will just ask the helpers individually instead of calling the hotline because a trust-relationship has been built," she said, noting the close-knit community of the town and how most neighbors are willing to help each other.

Bierent said already, many in the village are relying on neighbors for help and the hotline is only serving on average less than five people a day.

"People here take more care of other people,” Jones agreed.

Still, Jones said she and others are aware that a rise of novel coronavirus cases is coming in their country.

Germany has more than 25,000 infections, the fifth-most in the world. Its mortality rate is 0.4%, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.com from state health authorities. At Europe's epicenter of the pandemic in Italy, by contrast, some 9.5% of people confirmed to have the infection have died.

Just 2.7 percent of confirmed infections in Germany are in people over the age of 80, the Koch Institute said on Monday. That compares with 18 percent of cases in Italy.

The U.S. mortality rate is around 2 percent, according to numbers provided by Johns Hopkins University.

"Hospitals in Germany already don't have the capacity to deal with the current volume of those with Corona," Jones said. "We are fortunate that we watch the news and see the things going on in other countries, and try and prepare for those gaps to handle this pandemic.

"We just want to help lower community spread. The less people sick from corona, the better off we all are."

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