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Hagel Ponders Quarantine for All Military Personnel Returning from West Africa

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has not yet made a decision on whether to place all DOD personnel returning from duty in West Africa under a 21-day quarantine.

“The joint chiefs have made a recommendation to Secretary [Chuck] Hagel that he consider a regimented program of 21 days of controlled, supervised monitoring for all troops returning from Ebola response efforts in West Africa,” Rear Adm. John Kirby said in a Pentagon briefing yesterday. The troops had spent 30 days in West Africa during the initial U.S. response to the outbreak. “The secretary is in possession of that recommendation. He has made no decision yet.

“These guys were coming out of Liberia right away,” Kirby explained. “So, I think using prudence, caution, and a conservative approach, Army leadership made this specific decision for Gen. Williams and his staff.”

“Secretary [Hagel] shares the concerns by the chiefs about the safety and well-being not only of our troops, but also of their families, and he appreciates the thoughtfulness and the gravity of the recommendations Chairman Dempsey sent to him.

MG Williams, quarantine

A health worker (far right) from Doctors without Borders briefs (starting second from left) Maj. Gen. Darryl A. Williams, commander of U.S. Army Africa; Gen. David M. Rodriguez, commander of U.S. Africa Command; and U.S. Ambassador to Liberia, Deborah R. Malac on the operation of an Ebola treatment unit. Williams and his troops are currently under quarantine in Italy. U.S. Army Africa photo by Cmdr. Peter Niles

“In the meantime, the secretary supports the decision made by Army leadership to place Maj. Gen. [Darryl A.] Williams and his team under this same quarantine-like program,” Kirby said, referring to an earlier decision by Army Chief of Staff Gen. Raymond Odierno to place more than 40 personnel who had deployed to support Operation United Assistance in controlled monitoring. Part of the reason for the precautions, which exceed CDC recommendations, may be due to concerns of the Italian government. Williams’ plane was met on the runway by Italian authorities in full HAZMAT gear upon its return to Vicenza, Italy, according to CNN.

“These guys were coming out of Liberia right away,” Kirby explained. “So, I think using prudence, caution, and a conservative approach, Army leadership made this specific decision for Gen. Williams and his staff. And it was in keeping with a recommendation that was working its way to the secretary.

“That recommendation is now with the secretary for him to consider doing it force-wide, and to implement this across the force. He’s got it. He’ll examine it. And then we’ll go from there.

“But the decision was made as the recommendation was making its way up because these individuals were, at the time the recommendation was being proffered, they were actually traveling back from Liberia,” Kirby said.