Army major general, troops quarantined after Ebola aid trip

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Story highlights

  • 30 U.S. soldiers will join a group of approximately 10 in Italy already under quarantine.
  • The Pentagon is using the term "controlled monitoring," which effectively a quarantine.
  • There's no indication that anyone on the team has symptoms of Ebola.
  • It's unclear why they're undergoing this kind of monitoring, which is not Pentagon policy.
Thirty soldiers until recently stationed in West Africa will be quarantined in Italy when they arrive Wednesday after leaving the Ebola-stricken region this morning, Army officials tell CNN.
The soldier will join Army Major General Darryl A. Williams, commander of U.S. Army Africa, and approximately 10 other personnel who are now in "controlled monitoring" in Italy after returning there from West Africa over the weekend, according to multiple U.S. military officials.
The American personnel are effectively under quarantine, but Pentagon officials declined to use that terminology.
Williams' plane was met on the ground by Italian authorities "in full CDC gear," the official said, referring to the type of protective equipment worn by U.S. health care workers.
There is no indication at this time any of the team have symptoms of Ebola.
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They will be monitored for 21 days at a "separate location" at the U.S. military installation at Vicenza Italy, according to U.S. military officials. Senior Pentagon officials say it is not a "quarantine," but rather "controlled monitoring." However, the troops are being housed in an access controlled location on base, and are not allowed to go home for the 21 day period while they undergo twice daily temperature checks.
It is not clear yet if they will be allowed visits from family members.
Williams and his team have been in West Africa for 30 days, to set up the initial U.S. military assistance there and have traveled extensively around Liberia. The team was in treatment and testing areas during their travels.
Speaking to reporters two weeks ago while he was still overseas in Liberia, Williams spoke of the extensive monitoring that he was given.
"We measure, while we're here -- twice a day, are monitoring as required by the recent guidance that was put out while we're here in Liberia. I -- yesterday, I had my temperature taken, I think, eight times, before I got on and off aircraft, before I went in and out of the embassy, before I went out of my place where I'm staying," William said during the October 16 press conference.
"As long as you exercise basic sanitation and cleanliness sort of protocols using the chlorine wash on your hands and your feet, get your temperature taken, limiting the exposure, the -- no handshaking, those sorts of protocols, I think the risk is relatively low."
Officials could not explain why the group was being put under into controlled monitoring, which is counter to the Pentagon policy. The current DOD policy on monitoring returning troops says "as long as individuals remain asymptomatic, they may return to work and routine daily activities with family members."
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest said Monday that the Defense Department "has not issued a policy related to their workers that have spent time in West Africa."
"I know that there was this decision that was made by one commanding officer in the Department of Defense, but it does not reflect a department-wide policy that I understand is still under development," Earnest said.
The Pentagon has, though, published plans that detail how it will handle troops who are deployed to the region -- including potential quarantines.
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Jessica L. Wright, the undersecretary of Defense for personnel and readiness, issued an Oct. 10 memo that said troops who have faced an elevated risk of exposure to Ebola will be quarantined for 21 days -- and that those who haven't faced any known exposure will be monitored for three weeks.
Wright's memo also lays out the Pentagon's plans to train troops before they're sent to West Africa and to monitor them during their deployment to the epicenter of the Ebola outbreak.
Pressed again during his briefing Monday, Earnest said it's up to the Defense Department to announce its policies for troops that return from the region.
"We are seeing this administration put in place the policies that we believe are necessary to protect the American people and to protect the American troops," he said. "And we're going to let science drive that process. And as soon as we have a policy to announce on this, we'll let you know."
A senior military officials described the living quarters as one building with rooms equipped for between one and four people.
The quarantined personnel will eat in a dining tent. They have a gym and they have access to both unclassified and classified means of communication, according to the official.
The quarantined personnel are supposed to be getting access to chaplains soonest for worship services in the near future.