A mandatory Ebola quarantine has been issued from the Pentagon only for troops returning from West Africa. Healthcare workers that travel to West Africa, however, are not being mandatorily quarantined. Instead discussions have been ongoing in regards to enforcing a quarantine only on the military members returning from aid work with Ebola patients in West Africa. The army had already issued their own required quarantine and on Tuesday a recommendation was made by the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that all members of the military be included. After reviewing the recommendation, Hagel has announced that there will be a 21-day required quarantine for the troops returning from offering aid in West Africa.
As per the Pentagon, Hagel signed the order Wednesday morning and the quarantine is effective immediately. The original recommendation states that any returning soldiers would not be able to see their families during that 21-day quarantine period and they would be isolated in a separate building on base. The move to allow a troop quarantine exceeds the precautions that were originally recommended.
A Press Secretary for the White House, Josh Earnest discussed on Monday that decisions would have to be made in regards to any quarantine determinations. Even at this press conference more and more questions were being raised as to what plans were put in place when the military was sent to West Africa to help battle the spread of Ebola. When further asked about plans for the troops in regards to their exiting what is essentially an Ebola battlefield, Earnest said that it was all about what the science dictated. No answers were forthcoming on Monday as to what President Obama’s position is on a mandatory quarantine of the troops.
While there will be a mandatory ebola quarantine for all returning troop members, this only applies to the military but does not apply to any of the civilians offering aid to the sick. Doctors and nurses returning from West Africa are not being placed into quarantine unless they develop symptoms. The fear is that those individuals who would normally offer their support and aid, would instead be discouraged from volunteering if they were forced to endure a quarantine upon returning from offering up their services.
On Tuesday, when the Joint Chiefs of Staff made their official recommendation for a mandatory quarantine, President Obama spoke about the military’s situation and how it is different since these are individuals who did not have a choice in being sent over to West Africa. Although President Obama did discuss potential quarantines on Tuesday, he was clear that the situation is different between active duty military members who were sent to West Africa versus the civilians who volunteered their services. The president said in a press conference that the troops and civilians worked under a different set of rules and circumstances.
There are presently over 1,000 members of the military offering their support in West Africa and there is a potential for more to be sent over under current plans. As of Wednesday only troop members returning from West Africa will be placed into a mandatory ebola quarantine for 21 days. Civilians returning from offering aid to Ebola patients do not have a quarantine but will be monitored upon their arrival back into the United States.
By Kimberley Spinney