Ebola quarantine made optional for DOD civilians
WASHINGTON — Defense Department civilians can choose whether to be quarantined when they return from Ebola-infected areas of West Africa, unlike troops, who face a mandatory 21 days of “controlled monitoring.”
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Wednesday followed a recommendation from the Joint Chiefs of Staff to order the quarantines for troops, who will be isolated at their home bases upon return and monitored for symptoms.
But unlike troops, the Pentagon can’t require civilians to comply with a pre-emptive quarantine, Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said Friday.
“Because they’re civilian employees and not uniformed servicemembers, we legally can’t force them to undergo a controlled monitoring regimen the way we can with uniformed troops,” Kirby said.
The new procedures were laid out in a memo Friday from Jessica L. Wright, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness.
Before deploying to West Africa, civilians must notify their superiors whether they choose an “active monitoring” regimen upon return, which allows them to go about their normal daily lives while being monitored daily for symptoms, or the military-style controlled monitoring regimen.
Ebola experts and public health officials say Ebola-infected people can’t transmit the disease when they are not experiencing symptoms. Quarantine, they say, is unnecessary for people who may have been exposed to the disease but are well and being monitored for symptoms.
Earlier this week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention weighed in on the controversial topic, issuing guidelines ruling out mandatory quarantines for people who are not sick.
President Obama and top defense officials, however, have pointed to differences between civilians — frequently experts in infectious diseases who volunteered to go to Africa — and the troops, who were ordered there and likely have no prior experience with Ebola.
“We’re not health care workers by the way; we’re infantry men and supply clerks,” Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey said Thursday in support of the quarantine for troops.
Even though the vast majority of troops should have no contact with infected people, tighter protocols will help families and communities feel safe when they return, officials say.
Kirby pointed out that DOD civilians are present in the Ebola zone in far lower numbers than troops. Already some 1,200 military members have deployed to Liberia primarily to provide engineering and logistical support, with the possibility of another 2,800 arriving soon.
But there are currently only about 55 DOD civilians in the country, Kirby said.