The Joint Chiefs of Staff have recommended to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that all troops returning from deployments in West Africa to combat the Ebola virus be quarantined for 21 days, the Pentagon said Tuesday.
Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs, delivered the service chiefs' recommendation to follow the Army's lead on the policy of 21 days of isolation, said Rear Adm. John Kirby, the Pentagon press secretary.
On Monday, Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army chief of staff, ordered 21 days of isolation and "enhanced monitoring" for Army Maj. Gen. Darryl Williams and 11 other troops who were returning to Italy from leading the initial efforts by the military to contain the Ebola virus in Liberia.
Williams, the commander of U.S. Army Africa, and the other troops had shown no symptoms of Ebola such as high temperature, but the Army ordered the soldiers to remain isolated in a building at U.S. Army Garrison Vicenza in Italy. Odierno's order for 21 days isolation will apply to all Army troops returning from West Africa, Kirby said that policy could change as leaders continue to monitor the situation.
Kirby said Hagel "supports the decision the Army leadership made" while stressing that Hagel had yet to reach a decision on whether the 21-days isolation rule should apply to all services.
The Pentagon press secretary said there was no timeline for Hagel to make a decision but added that one was expected soon.
The U.S. has about 800 troops in West Africa -- most of them in Liberia -- and President Obama has approved plans to deploy as many as 4,000 troops to contain the epidemic that has hit hardest in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone.
The Pentagon press secretary was questioned repeatedly on why the policy on isolation for troops returning from West Africa appeared to be stricter than the latest guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control for returning health care workers.
Previously, the CDC had recommended screening travelers from West Africa and monitoring medical workers for three weeks after they arrive in the United States.
On Monday, the CDC recommended restrictions on commercial travel, attendance at public gatherings, and home or hospital isolation for those considered at highest risk. Highest risk individuals were those who had direct contact with an Ebola patient's body fluids, or who suffered a needle-stick injury while treating a patient, the CDC said.
In an afternoon statement and a brief response to a question, President Obama said the CDC was walking a fine line in setting out guidelines for those returning from West Africa.
"We don't want to discourage our health care workers from going to the front lines" by making their returns difficult, Obama said.
Obama said the "military is in a different situation" in establishing rules for returning troops. The medical workers were mostly civilians, Obama said, and "we don't expect to have similar rules for our military."
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@military.com