Hagel considering new Ebola policy
Washington – — The U.S. military chiefs recommended to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Tuesday that he require all troops returning from Ebola response missions in West Africa be kept in supervised isolation for 21 days, the Pentagon said.
If approved by Hagel, the move would exceed precautions recommended by the Obama administration for civilians, although President Barack Obama said Tuesday the military's situation is different, in part because troops are not in West Africa by choice.
"We don't expect them to have similar rules and by definition they're working under more circumscribed circumstances," Obama said in a statement.
Just over 1,000 U.S. troops are providing logistics and other support for the international Ebola response effort in Liberia and Senegal, and their numbers could grow to 3,900 under current plans. None are intended to be in contact with Ebola victims.
Administration officials say they don't want decisions affecting civilians involved in fighting Ebola to discourage volunteer medical professionals from going to Africa to help battle the disease, which has infected about 10,000 people and killed nearly half of them.
On Monday, the Army chief of staff, Gen. Ray Odierno, directed a 21-day period of isolation for all Army soldiers returning from such missions, starting with a two-star general and 11 staff members who arrived at a base in Vicenza, Italy, after helping coordinate the U.S. response to Ebola in Liberia. They are being housed in a building on base and are not permitted to see their families.
The Joint Chiefs' recommendation to Hagel would apply that same standard to members of all the services, not just the Army.
Under current Pentagon policy, troops returning to their home bases from Ebola response missions are to undergo temperature checks twice a day for 21 days to ensure they are free of Ebola symptoms and may not travel widely. But they are not to be quarantined and kept from contact with others.
At a glance
A nurse who fueled Ebola fears by flying to Cleveland after being infected by her dying patient was released Tuesday from a hospital isolation unit, where doctors defended her as a courageous front-line caregiver.
Another nurse, held for days in a medical tent in New Jersey after volunteering in West Africa, was in an undisclosed location in Maine, objecting to quarantine rules as overly restrictive.
While world leaders appeal for more doctors and nurses on the front lines of the Ebola epidemic, health care workers in the United States are finding themselves on the defensive.
Lawyers now represent both Amber Vinson, who contracted the virus while caring for a Liberian visitor to Texas, and Kaci Hickox, who is challenging the mandatory quarantines some states are imposing on anyone who came into contact with Ebola victims.
Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.