NEW YORK – In yet another Obama administration reversal adding to the confusion surrounding the mission of U.S. troops in West Africa, Defense Department officials said Gen. David M. Rodriguez misspoke when he told reporters Tuesday that U.S. troops would be in direct contact with Ebola patients.
The Defense officials, however, now insist U.S. military lab technicians will only be testing specimen samples from suspected Ebola victims.
But earlier Tuesday, Rodriguez said: “These are the U.S. troops that will be involved testing directly people in Liberia suspected of having the disease.”
Meanwhile, the Daily Observer of Monrovia, Liberia, reported Tuesday that eight Liberian soldiers who contracted the Ebola virus have died.
Rodriguez had told reporters the U.S. military had put “two additional mobile medical labs” in operation last week in Liberia, “significantly increasing our capacity for rapidly diagnosing Ebola.”
The general said the mobile labs “are for testing people, and some of the people tested will have Ebola.”
He quickly added that “the U.S. troops staffing these labs are trained at the highest level of nuclear, biological and chemical readiness, so they are all trained to operate in nuclear, biological threat and chemical threat environments.”
Rodriguez said the soldiers “will be tested continuously for symptoms of Ebola.”
He addressed the issue of what will happen if a member of the U.S. military in Liberia contracts Ebola.
“If one of the U.S. troops develops symptoms of Ebola, they will be handled just like you’ve seen with the other Americans that contracted Ebola who were returned to the United States in specially designed aircraft designed to isolate the disease,” he said. “Any U.S. troops that develop Ebola will be brought in the United States to one of the medical centers that is specially designed to handle Ebola patients.”
The general said a U.S. military medical mobile laboratory has been operating in Liberia for several years, but he gave no other details.
He was asked to give an estimate of the number of U.S. troops that would work with the mobile medical labs in Liberia and to describe the type of protective equipment they would have.
“There is between a three- and a four-person team that operate each mobile medical laboratory, and we have three labs deployed right now,” he replied.
“We will probably deploy several other mobile medical laboratories. Each lab adds three-to-four additional U.S. troops involved, and, again, those troops are trained to the very highest level of operating in a nuclear, biological and chemical arena.”