Army Chief of Staff Gen. Ray Odierno issued a directive late Monday that all soldiers assisting in the Pentagon’s Ebola support mission in West Africa must be quarantined for three weeks before redeploying elsewhere.
“He has done this out of caution to ensure soldiers, family members and their surrounding communities are confident that we are taking all steps necessary to protect their health,” the Army said in a statement.
The Pentagon has said that up to 4,000 troops could be deployed to West Africa to deal with the spread of the Ebola virus. The majority of that force, about 3,200 soldiers, are expected to come from the Army.
Already, Army Maj. Gen. Darryl A. Williams, commander of U.S. Army Africa, and 11 other soldiers returning from the Pentagon’s Ebola support mission in Liberia are being isolated and monitored for three weeks at a U.S. military installation at Vicenza, Italy.
Williams arrived in Liberia last month to form an advance team in West Africa before another commander formally took over Sunday.
Members of the team did not have direct contact with Ebola patients and have not reported symptoms of the virus, but the Army decided to isolate them out of an “abundance of caution,” said Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman.
Soldiers from across the country were set to deploy from mid- to late October, and possibly through November, based on support needed and available transportation, the Army said.
The Army said it doesn’t plan to send all of its soldiers to Italy, and that officials are looking at quarantine options for soldiers returning to the United States.
The decision to isolate Army soldiers does not mean all military personnel deployed to the region will also have to be monitored as closely. The Pentagon is examining what level of monitoring is necessary from returning soldiers, Warren said.
Officials have made clear that U.S. troops would seek to avoid contact with people who have Ebola. About 700 U.S. military personnel are building infrastructure in Liberia, the country hardest hit by the disease. Other U.S. troops are working at an airport cargo facility in Dakar, Senegal.
The U.S. military has already started work to help build 17 Ebola isolation and treatment units with 100 beds each at several locations in Liberia by early December as part of a $750-million operation to help stem the spread of the deadly virus.
The military has set up three labs that can provide results within 24 hours. More than 1,500 samples from patients have been tested, the Pentagon said.
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