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Nov. 2014 story: Civilians don’t have to be quarantined like soldiers

Last week ABC-7 learned soldiers returning from missions dealing with Ebola in Liberia will be isolated for 21 days at one of five military posts, including Fort Bliss.

However, on Monday ABC-7 learned that civilian contractors can opt out of that quarantine.

Fort Bliss officials told ABC-7 they cannot force civilians to stay in isolation if they don’t want to.

“Civilian employees and contractors, when they come back, they have the option to go into the 21 day mandatory controlled monitoring, just like our service members do,” Fort Bliss spokesman Lt. Col. Lee Peters said.

But for civilian employees and contractors, that quarantine is not mandatory.

“(We would rather they) opt in,” Peters said. “We would rather have them under our controlled monitoring supervision. It’s their option, they can do what they want, but we highly encourage them to take part in the process. We want to make sure we don’t inadvertently introduce Ebola, or Ebola symptoms, into our communities.”

Army officials said if civilians opt out of the military quarantine, they’ll still be expected to monitor themselves and take their temperature twice a day.

“We will basically notify the CDC as well as that State Public Health Department that this person is returning from West Africa and they are going to be in your area,” Peters said. “They still have to undergo that process. It just depends on whether they are at a military installation or at a hotel or their own home.”

ABC-7 asked El Pasoans what they thought of civilians having the option to not participate in the quarantine.

“I have faith they’re doing everything that’s necessary to keep everybody safe,” said West El Pasoan Flor Bermudez. “I just think it’s a little excessive.”

“It does concern me because I think they should,” said El Pasoan Liz Holguin. “If they bring something back, how are we going to find out if they’re not quarantined?

“Having to be quarantined 21 days the second I get back, it’s almost a punishment,” said El Paso medical student Lillian Tran, who is attending Texas Tech Medical School. “Those physicians and the soldiers and the contractors that do go over there should not be quarantined, they should just be heavily monitored.”

Gov. Rick Perry said last week that health care workers returning from West Africa to Texas are allowed to self quarantine for 21 days. It’s unclear whether that also goes for civilian contractors who are not health care workers. ABC-7 is still waiting for a call back from the Texas Department of State Health Services to clarify the guidelines.

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