As the federal government maintains that quarantines for medical workers possibly exposed to Ebola in West Africa are unnecessary, the Army is monitoring troops working in the region as part of the Pentagon’s response to the crisis "in a separate location" at their home base in Italy.
Army spokesman Col. Steve Warren did not call the move a quarantine in a statement issued on Monday. Rather, he said that "about a dozen" troops were being monitored.
"Out of an abundance of caution, the Army did direct a small number of military personnel (about a dozen) that recently returned to Italy to be monitored in a separate location at their home station (Vicenza)," Warren stated. "There has been no decision to implement this force wide and any such decision would be made by the secretary of Defense. None of these individuals have shown any symptoms of exposure."
According to reports, the soldiers are being monitored away from their families for 21 days. The Army refuses to call the isolation a quarantine, although separating people for medical reasons meets the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s definition of quarantine.
The Army’s move comes as Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel weighs a department-wide quarantine for any service member exposed to the virus. A senior military official told Foreign Policy that the Joint Chiefs of Staff recommend quarantining all troops but the final decision rests solely with Hagel.
If Hagel does implement a quarantine for troops possible exposed to Ebola, it would put him at odds with the White House. After several states announced that they would quarantine medical workers who were possibly exposed to Ebola late last week, the Obama administration spent the weekend insisting isolation wasn’t necessary.
"I don’t want to be directly criticizing the decision that was made but we have to be careful that there aren’t unintended consequences," Anthony S. Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said Sunday. ""The best way to stop this epidemic is to help the people in West Africa."
However, even after the release of Kaci Hickox, the nurse who was quarantined in New Jersey despite testing negative for Ebola — twice — GOP Gov. Chris Christie defended his decision to isolate patients.
"I didn’t reverse my decision," Christie said while campaigning in Florida for Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who also announced enhanced monitoring of Ebola-exposed health-care workers. "She hadn’t had any symptoms for 24 hours. And she tested negative for Ebola. So there was no reason to keep her. The reason she was put into the hospital in the first place was because she was running a high fever and was symptomatic."
Even as Christie and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo eased quarantine restrictions, the handling of the Ebola epidemic continued to be a political issue ahead of Nov. 4 midterm elections that could swing the Senate to Republican control. On Sunday, Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus said that President Barack Obama’s response to the disease on U.S. soil shows poor management.
"I think ultimately what this election has a lot do with is really bad management, mismanagement, the lack of management, managers that can’t manage and the president’s at the head of all of this. I mean, the question really is the president’s policies," Priebus said on CNN’s "State of the Union." .
On Monday, CDC chief Tom Frieden said that the federal government would increase its monitoring of medical workers exposed to the disease in Africa. He said that high-risk cases should be isolated, while moderate-risk cases would be monitored. However, Frieden did not call for a federal quarantine.
Monday afternoon, Virginia and Maryland became the next states to monitor medical workers possible exposed to the disease. However, those people will not be quarantined.
When asked about the quarantine policies in New York, New Jersey and Illinois, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that the administration was working closely with mayors and governors in each state.
"What we hope," said Earnest, is that their decisions will be "driven by science."