US Personnel Will Staff Liberian Ebola Hospital

The commander in charge of the U.S. response to Ebola in Africa said Thursday that 65 U.S. uniformed personnel would soon staff a 25-bed hospital in Monrovia that will directly treat Liberian healthcare workers if they are infected. 

"They will actually be involved in the care and feeding of health care workers who have been infected with the Ebola virus," said Maj. Gen. Darryl Williams, commander of Operation United Assistance Joint Force, at a Pentagon briefing Thursday. 

Although the team members are uniformed personnel, they are not considered "troops" because they serve as part of the U.S. Public Health Service under the Department of Health and Human Services, not the Pentagon. 

"The U.S. Public Health Services are actually providing support to healthcare workers ... if they unfortunately are stricken with the disease," Williams said. 

"That's what their purpose is, that 65. The 25-bed hospital, I hope we never have to put anybody in it, but that's the purpose of the U.S. Public Health Services," he said. 

The Pentagon has repeatedly said that with the exception of several dozen highly skilled troops who will man mobile testing laboratories in Liberia and could handle Ebola samples, no troops would come into contact with Ebola patients.

The assertion was restated on Thursday.

"I want to emphasize again that no U.S. military personnel will be providing direct patient care to the local population," Pentagon press secretary Rear Adm. John Kirby said Thursday at a State Department briefing. 

A trio of House Democrats concerned that there are not enough healthcare workers in Liberia called Wednesday for President Obama to allow U.S. troops to provide direct care to Ebola patients. 

"We write to urge you to consider building on the current response to the Ebola epidemic by allowing military medical and technical personnel to provide direct care to, and to come into contact with, patients in West Africa," Reps. Keith Ellison (Minn.), Karen Bass (Calif.) and Barbara Lee (Calif.) wrote in a letter to President Obama. 

Williams said currently there are about 500 U.S. troops in West Africa, and that having any of them directly treat Ebola patients is "not currently in the Department of Defense portfolio." 

"Currently we have not been asked to do it," he said. 

Williams said if any troops were to become infected, they would be quarantined, stabilized and evacuated to a medical facility, although no U.S. military medical facility has yet been designated. 

However, Williams said the risk would be low for troops who are constructing Ebola treatment units, training healthcare workers and helping with logistics. 

"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 — no handshaking, those sorts of protocols — I think the risk is relatively low," Williams said.  

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