By: David Bastawrous—Special Report College Associate
While the White House continues to cast the decision of Gov. Christie and Gov. Cuomo to implement a quarantine for health workers returning from Ebola-stricken countries to New Jersey and New York as anti-science and “just wrong”, White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest on Tuesday justified similar US Army policies due to operational efficiency.
The US Army on Monday began isolating about a dozen troops, including a two-star general, returning from Liberia to a US Army base in Vincenza, Italy. About 75 more troops will return from Western Africa throughout the week and will be placed in similar conditions.
The conditions, which a Pentagon spokesman, Army Col. Steve Warren, called “quarantine-like”, consist of “being checked regularly by medical professionals” and the soldiers will not “have any interaction with other personnel” for a period of 21 days.
Earnest on Tuesday dodged questions of whether or not the White House supports this policy. Though, a source in the administration told Fox News on Monday that “the White House was not happy” with the Pentagon’s decision.
But Earnest did state that it’s “not unusual” for civilian policy to differ from Department of Defense policy. He justified the Army’s actions in the name of efficiency, reasoning that it is easier for the US Army to monitor their high numbers of personnel if their “movements are restricted” and are “co-located.”
The White House continued to caution enforcing a similar policy on the civilian population.
Echoing the CDC, as well as statements from Doctors Without Borders and an editorial from the New England Journal of Medicine, Earnest said that “science does not back up” the notion that mandatory quarantines on civilian personnel will stop the spread of Ebola, and stated that such a policy would “dissuade” volunteer healthcare personnel from traveling overseas to aid the efforts.
Similarly, President Obama today said that military personnel have a “different situation” in that they're “not there voluntarily” and “not treating patients.”
But it’s for that reason that many have asked why the US Army has imposed quarantine-like conditions on personnel who are not directly treating patients, while the CDC and the White House continue to discourage such restrictions on volunteers who have directly treated patients infected with Ebola.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie on Tuesday called the CDC guidelines “incredibly confusing.”
Christie claimed that the CDC has been too slow to act but are now “incrementally taking steps to the policy” put in effect in states like New Jersey.
On Monday, the CDC moved to encourage health personnel at high risk for developing Ebola, though they may be asymptomatic, to avoid commercial travel and “congregate gatherings” for an appropriate time consistent with the 21 day Ebola incubation period. Dr. Tom Frieden indicated that such personnel may be placed on a “Do Not Board” list for air travel.
“What’s the difference of telling someone who has been a health care worker at high risk that they can’t go in public places, public transportation, and we want them to work from home, what’s the difference between that and a quarantine?” Christie said. “They don’t want to admit that we’re right and they were wrong.”
Christie denied any political motivations for his decision, citing the six states, red and blue, who have implemented similar measures.