Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has ordered that all U.S. military personnel returning from Ebola response efforts in West Africa be subject to a 21-day quarantine.
In a statement issued Wednesday, Pentagon spokesman Rear Admiral John Kirby said Hagel signed off on a recommendation by the Joint Chiefs of Staff that all returning troops be placed in “controlled monitoring” for 21 days.
“This order will apply to all military services that are contributing personnel to the fight against Ebola at its source,” Kirby said.
Hagel also directed the Joint Chiefs to develop a plan for implementing the order within the next 15 days and ensure that it accounts for “the size and scope of the logistics required.” Under the directive, the Joint Chiefs will review the process within 45 days and make a new recommendation to Hagel as to whether the mandatory quarantines should continue.
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The order goes beyond federal guidelines for civilians returning from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, which do not require quarantines for people not showing symptoms of the disease. Instead, those guidelines encourage anybody who has cared for Ebola patients to monitor themselves and voluntarily report any symptoms to authorities. Hagel’s order follows conflicting state and federal approaches, with several state governments mandating – or saying they will mandate – quarantines of medical personnel returning from Ebola-afflicted nations.
In the statement, Kirby said the health and safety of military service members remain Hagel’s chief concern.
“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,” Kirby said. “The secretary’s highest priority is the safety and security of our men and women in uniform and their families.”
Kirby, however, emphasized Tuesday that U.S. troops “are not going to be treating Ebola patients.”
“They’re not going to be coming in direct contact with people who have the disease,” he said during a press briefing. “They are engineers, logisticians, Seabees, aviators.”
The chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, R-Calif., said in a statement that he supportedHagel’s”tough call” on the quarantines and that a 45-day review of the policy amounted to “plain common sense.”
“For now I think it is the right call,” McKeon said.
“Uncertain missions often require us to take steps out of an abundance of caution,” he said. “Here the Secretary is acting not only to protect our forces but the larger military family.”