Reporter to Earnest: Why Quarantine Soldiers But Not Civilians Who Were In Direct Contact With Ebola?

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At Tuesday's briefing, New York Times White House correspondent Michael Shear asked press secretary Josh Earnest why the Obama administration is okay with quarantining soldiers who were sent to West Africa to help to combat Ebola but did not treat patients, yet are against quarantining civilians returning from that region who did have direct contact with Ebola patients.

"I understand how the Army and the broader Defense Department could well have policies that maybe make sense for them, that don't make sense for the civilian population, but I think people looking at and hearing you guys talk about how these policies should be driven by the science, right?" Shear asked.

"And then you see that the Defense Department is saying that people who are coming back, soldiers who are coming back, who specifically are not medical providers, right?" Shear asked. "You've said that from the podium a lot."

"So they are at least one step, if not multiple steps removed from the healthcare workers who are actually suiting up and being with the patients," Shear said. "And that those people then who are hammering and building the hospitals are now being told to be isolated by the military. Do you guys view that as being driven by the same science that Dr. Fauci is talking about? Because it doesn't seem like that's being driven by that science."

"It may be driven by other elements, but it's not the science," Shear said.

Shear grilled senior administration officials earlier this month for "breakdowns" in what they claimed was a "perfect system."

MICHAEL D. SHEAR, NEW YORK TIMES: Just a couple clarifications on the military question. I think you said something about you're waiting to see whether this is a recommendation and waiting to see whether it's actually adopted. It's true though that the Army actually implemented a policy yesterday, right, they announced it.

JOSH EARNEST, WHITE HOUSE: The Army did make an announcement, but the Secretary of Defense is considering a department wide policy and so I didn't want to suggest in answering Nedra's question that I was prejudging the outcome of any sort of decision that Secretary of Defense should rightly make.

SHEAR: And just to follow up. I understand how the Army and the broader Defense Department could well have policies that maybe make sense for them, that don't make sense for the civilian population, but I think people looking at and hearing you guys talk about how these policies should be driven by the science, right? And Dr. Fauci spent much of the morning today talking about how you associate the risk level with the level of punishment or the level of restriction that you put on somebody based on the scientific risk level.

And then you see that the Defense Department is saying that people who are coming back, soldiers who are coming back, who specifically are not medical providers, right? You've said that from the podium a lot.

EARNEST: That's correct.

SHEAR: That these people aren't actually dealing directly with patients. So they are at least one step, if not multiple steps removed from the healthcare workers who are actually suiting up and being with the patients. And that those people then who are hammering and building the hospitals are now being told to be isolated by the military. Do you guys view that as being driven by the same science that Dr. Fauci is talking about? Because it doesn't seem like that's being driven by that science. It may be driven by other elements, but it's not the science.

EARNEST: Let me say a couple things about that. And I'm not sure your question does this, but let me just put this on the table for broader discussion. It would be wrong to suggest that it would make the American people safer to apply this military policy in a civilian context. The science would not back that up.

In fact, implementing this military policy in a civilian context would only have the effect of hindering our Ebola response by dissuading civilian doctors and nurses from traveling to West Africa and trying to stop the outbreak at its tracks. And you've also heard me say many times that the only way that we can entirely eliminate the Ebola risk is to stop this outbreak at its tracks in West Africa. So, that's the first thing.

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