Army Troops Returning From Ebola Zones Held in Isolation

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U.S. and Liberian Soldiers
U.S. and Liberian soldiers depart a U.S. Marine MV-22 Osprey tiltrotor at the site of an Ebola treatment center under construction in Tubmanburg, Liberia, on Oct. 15, 2014. Photographer: John Moore/Getty Images

U.S. Army personnel who returned to their base in Italy after working in Ebola-stricken countries are in isolation and being monitored for 21 days as a precaution, a Pentagon spokesman said today.

Similar measures will be taken with other Army personnel, including several dozen troops scheduled to return to their home base in Vicenza from West Africa in coming days, said Army Colonel Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman.

A dozen troops who returned from Liberia over the weekend are now being kept “in a separate location” on the Vicenza base, Warren said. Among those being held for monitoring is Major General Darryl Williams, commander of U.S. Army Africa, who led an advance detachment of troops to Liberia about 40 days ago.

When asked if the personnel were under a quarantine, Warren avoided that word and said, “It is enhanced monitoring. They are not allowed to leave.”

None has shown any symptoms of the Ebola virus, he said. Pentagon officials have said that U.S. troops would be helping with tasks such as building medical facilities that would not put them into direct contact with Ebola victims.

“This is really a decision that’s made out of an abundance of caution,” Warren told reporters.

About 700 U.S. military personnel are deployed to West Africa, including almost 600 in Liberia, with the remainder in Senegal, according to a Pentagon statement.

Pentagon Policy

The Army’s move to isolate returning troops comes as the White House has fought mandatory quarantines imposed by the governors of New York and New Jersey for returning health-care workers.

It also exceeds official Pentagon policy, which in most cases calls only for monitoring returning troops for symptoms such as fever.

General Raymond Odierno, the Army chief of staff, made the decision on Oct. 24 “out of caution to ensure soldiers, family members and their surrounding communities are confident that we are taking all steps necessary to protect their health,” according to an Army statement.

Soldiers held for 21 days are housed in a separate facility with no physical contact with family members permitted, although telephone and Internet service is available, the Army statement said. Meals will be provided to soldiers on site and medical checks will be conducted twice a day, it said.

Although the Army’s decision exceeds the Pentagon’s policy, commanders have the authority to “increase the stringency of any policy,” Warren said. “That’s very common.”

Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has made no decision on whether to extend an isolation policy to all Defense Department personnel, Warren said.

“We’re continuously reviewing our policies,” Warren said.

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