In an attempt to prevent the deadly Ebola virus from spreading, U.S. troops returning from nations infected with the disease will be isolated for 21 days, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced Wednesday.
USA Today reports that Hagel's decision was made at the advice of top commanders for the Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps and a day after the White House pressured states ito impose strict quarantines of health care workers returning from West Africa.
"The fact is the military will have more Americans in Liberia than any other department," Hagel said, explaining his decision at Wednesday's "Washington Ideas Forum." He also said military families had discussed the idea, and "very much wanted a safety valve on this."
The new isolation policy will be reviewed again in 45 days to see whether it was necessary to continue with it, said Rear Adm. John Kirby, Pentagon press secretary.
"The secretary believes these initial steps are prudent," Kirby said.
CNN reports that the policy creates a separate set of rules for military members than what the White House requires for civilian health care workers. President Obama has previously asserted that civilian volunteer health workers returning from aid trips to Africa should not be quarantined and encouraged states not to impose their own quarantine policies.
However, when asked to explain the discrepancy between civilians and the military, President Obama said that service members have been sent to the Ebola region by him and health workers are going as volunteers.
"It's part of their mission that's been assigned to them by their commanders and ultimately by me, the commander-in-chief," the president told reporters on the White House's South Lawn on Tuesday."So we don't expect to have similar rules for our military as we do for civilians," Obama said. "They are already, by definition, if they're in the military under more circumscribed conditions."
Air Force Col. Edward Thomas - a spokesman for the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Army Gen. Martin Dempsey - told USA Today that civilian doctors returning from West Africa are better able to monitor themselves because of their background, while most of the troops being sent to the area do not have such medical training.
"At least initially, we think this conservative approach is the right one," Thomas said.
During the isolation period, the troops will be housed in a separate facility and are not allowed contact with family members. They are provided access to a gym, a day room, TV and the Internet, and are monitored for any signs of infection
According to the World Health Organization, 443 healthcare workers have contracted the virus worldwide, 244 of whom have died. More than 4,800 people have died from the virus in total since March, most of which occurred in Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone.
The WHO stated that hundreds of thousands of Ebola vaccinations will be produced in 2015 with some heading to West Africa as soon as December of this year.