21 Day Quarantine For US Troops Returning From West Africa

President Obama says it’s a “different situation” for military troops than for returning health workers. He is right about that. Health workers that’ve been in close contact with Ebola virus infected patients will not be quarantined by federal law (Some states will require quarantine), while US troops involved with the construction of hospital facilities and clients will be quarantined. Make sense?

We seem to be getting a confused message about quarantine. Ebola medical experts say a quarantine will be counterproductive, while Chuck Hagel has ordered a quarantine for the military  and politicians are divided.

Ebola healthcare workers
Ebola Healthcare Workers in PPE

Hagel orders quarantine for US troops returning from W. Africa

Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel on Wednesday ordered a 21-day quarantine for all US troops returning from West Africa, calling it a “prudent” measure to prevent the spread of the Ebola virus.

The move means the military is adopting much stricter measures than those in place for civilian health workers sent by the US government to Liberia and Senegal, and the order came amid a debate about how to treat Americans who may have come in contact with those suffering from the deadly disease.

“The secretary believes these initial steps are prudent, given the large number of military personnel transiting from their home base and West Africa, and the unique logistical demands and impact this deployment has on the force,” his spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said in a statement.

The quarantine was being introduced even though officials say the soldiers will be focused on building medical clinics and will have no contact with those infected with the virus.

But Hagel said the decision was taken partly because military families urged the quarantine.

“This is also a policy that was discussed in great detail by the communities, by the families of our military men and women, and they very much wanted a safety valve on this,” Hagel said at an event in the US capital, the “Washington Ideas Forum.”

The US Army had already ordered a 21-day quarantine for its troops coming back from Liberia and Senegal. Hagel’s order extended the measure to all branches of the military.

Under the decision, Hagel asked the chiefs of the armed services to deliver a detailed plan within 15 days on how to carry out the quarantine. And he directed the chiefs to review the new regimen within 45 days and advise whether to continue with the measures.

Medical experts have sharply criticized recent strict quarantine orders adopted in New York and New Jersey as based on politics rather than science.

President Barack Obama on Tuesday urged Americans to respond to the virus with “facts” rather than “fear.”

But Obama endorsed the military’s approach, saying the armed forces presented a “different situation” than civilian health workers.

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Troops Quarantined After Ebola Aid Trip

The Pentagon has decided, at least for now, to quarantine troops returning from West Africa. This goes against the wishes of many medical experts, but is in line with New York, New Jersey, and Illinois requiring quarantines for returning health workers, or for anyone having contact with Ebola victims in West Africa. What do you think? Should everyone be quarantined or allowed to return and self monitor?

One factor that may have aided the Pentagon’s decision. The first returning troops are returning to base in Italy. The host nation may have insisted on a quarantine.

Army major general, troops quarantined after Ebola aid trip

By Barbara Starr, CNN Pentagon Correspondent

Army Major General Darryl A. Williams, commander of U.S. Army Africa, and approximately 10 other personnel are now in “controlled monitoring” in Italy after returning there from West Africa over the weekend, according to multiple U.S. military officials.

The American personnel are effectively under quarantine, but Pentagon officials declined to use that terminology.

William’s plane was met on the ground by Italian authorities “in full CDC gear,” the official said referring to the type of protective equipment warn by U.S. health care workers.

There is no indication at this time any of the team have symptoms of Ebola.

They will be monitored for 21 days at a “separate location” at the U.S. military installation at Vicenza Italy, according to U.S. military officials. Senior Pentagon officials say it is not a “quarantine,” but rather “controlled monitoring.” However, the troops are being housed in an access controlled location on base, and are not allowed to go home for the 21 day period while they undergo twice daily temperature checks.

It is not clear yet if they will be allowed visits from family members.

Williams and his team have been in West Africa for 30 days, to set up the initial U.S. military assistance there and have traveled extensively around Liberia. The team was in treatment and testing areas during their travels.

Speaking to reporters two weeks ago while he was still overseas in Liberia, Williams spoke of the extensive monitoring that he was given.

“We measure, while we’re here — twice a day, are monitoring as required by the recent guidance that was put out while we’re here in Liberia. I — yesterday, I had my temperature taken, I think, eight times, before I got on and off aircraft, before I went in and out of the embassy, before I went out of my place where I’m staying,” William said during the October 16 press conference.

“As long as you exercise basic sanitation and cleanliness sort of protocols using the chlorine wash on your hands and your feet, get your temperature taken, limiting the exposure, the — no handshaking, those sorts of protocols, I think the risk is relatively low.”

Officials could not explain why the group was being put under into controlled monitoring, which is counter to the Pentagon policy. The current DOD policy on monitoring returning troops says “as long as individuals remain asymptomatic, they may return to work and routine daily activities with family members.”

White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Monday that the Defense Department “has not issued a policy related to their workers that have spent time in West Africa.”

“I know that there was this decision that was made by one commanding officer in the Department of Defense, but it does not reflect a department-wide policy that I understand is still under development,” Earnest said.

The Pentagon has, though, published plans that detail how it will handle troops who are deployed to the region — including potential quarantines.

Jessica L. Wright, the undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness, issued an Oct. 10 memo that said troops who have faced an elevated risk of exposure to Ebola will be quarantined for 21 days — and that those who haven’t faced any known exposure will be monitored for three weeks.

Wright’s memo also lays out the Pentagon’s plans to train troops before they’re sent to West Africa and to monitor them during their deployment to the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak.

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