- The Washington Times - Monday, October 27, 2014

The White House insisted Monday that policies to contain Ebola within the U.S. must not serve as a “disincentive” for health care workers who are thinking about fighting the virus in West Africa.

Outbreaks in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea, where the health care infrastructure is relatively poor, pose the greatest threat to the American homeland, so anything that prevents help from reaching the region would be counterproductive, Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters.

“It continues to be the view of this administration that stopping the Ebola outbreak in its tracks in West Africa is critically important to our national security and to the safety and health of American citizens,” he said. “As we’ve said many, many times, the likelihood of a widespread outbreak in this country of Ebola is exceedingly low.”

However, the White House was less clear about its plans to monitor or quarantine up to 3,000 American soldiers heading into “the hot zone” in West Africa. Asked repeatedly, Mr. Earnest could not present a blanket policy for dealing with military personnel when they return home.

“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.

Mr. Earnest noted that military personnel will be working on infrastructure projects to assist the Ebola fight, and not directly treating patients.”

The Pentagon said about a dozen U.S. soldiers returning from Liberia were isolated Sunday at a U.S. base in Vincenza, Italy, out of an “abundance of caution.” More soldiers will flow into the isolation area in the coming days.

“None of these individuals have shown any symptoms of exposure,” the Defense Department said in a statement.

Officials said the “enhanced monitoring” pertains only to the Army, although a military-wide policy may come later this week.

His comments came as New Jersey announced it would allow a returning health care worker, Kaci Hickox, to return to her home in Maine and finish out a 21-day quarantine.

New York, Illinois and Florida also have announced special quarantine or monitoring measures for their states, raising concerns that the U.S. approach to fighting Ebola is too fragmented.

“In some ways you can kind of take this up with James Madison,” Mr. Earnest said, referring to the American balance of federal and state powers.

Mr. Earnest took great pains to praise Ms. Hickox for her work in Africa, without second-guessing state rules that placed her in isolation in a climate-controlled tent adjacent to a Newark hospital after she exhibited a fever at the airport. Ms. Hickox has not tested positive for Ebola.

“She did it out of concern for her common man,” Mr. Earnest said, noting she will not get a big paycheck or be nominated to some “nurses’ hall of fame.”

Maggie Ybarra contributed to this article.

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