American troops finishing overseas Ebola-response missions will be quarantined temporarily at Joint Base Lewis-McChord and four other domestic military bases, the Pentagon announced Friday.
Military service members departing from assignments in West Africa must spend 21 days in isolation under an order issued last week by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel. The quarantines are intended to keep them away from civilians during the Ebola virus’ incubation period.
JBLM could be asked to house about 1,000 military service members during quarantines, said I Corps spokesman Lt. Col. Dennis Swanson.
They would be kept in empty, World War II-era barracks that JBLM had used until recently to house ROTC students during summertime exercises, Swanson said. The barracks area already is somewhat separate from other headquarters buildings and barracks.
Quarantined troops would eat their meals within the confinement area. They would not be able to leave unless they have a medical emergency.
“Once they’re in, they’re in for the 21 days,” Swanson said.
The plan is to have JBLM’s 593rd Expeditionary Sustainment Command take care of the quarantined troops’ basic needs, such as food and security. Medical personnel from Madigan Army Medical Center would monitor their health.
Soldiers assigned to care for troops in isolation would not face mandatory quarantines unless someone shows signs of illness, Swanson said.
An order signed Friday by Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Gen. Martin Dempsey says that quarantined troops must have their temperatures checked twice daily. They will be kept in groups based on the dates they leave West Africa.
If someone tests positive for Ebola, he or she will be removed from the confinement area for medical treatment, and the individual’s entire unit will be placed under enhanced monitoring.
The other bases that will host troops during their quarantine periods are Fort Hood and Fort Bliss in Texas, Fort Bragg in North Carolina and Joint Base Langley-Eustis in Virginia.
Two bases in Europe also could be used to house troops during isolation periods, Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said.
The Defense Department is preparing to send up to 4,000 military service members to West Africa for Ebola-response efforts, mostly from the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
So far, the virus has killed more than 4,800 people in West Africa. U.S. troops are expected to build and help maintain Ebola-treatment facilities.
It is not clear yet when troops will start returning home from those missions. Officials at JBLM do not know when quarantined troops could begin arriving here.