WASHINGTON — Pushing to confront Ebola at its West African source, President Obama said Wednesday the United States was not immune to the disease but cautioned against discouraging health care workers with restrictive measures that confine them upon their return from the afflicted region.

“We can’t hermetically seal ourselves off,” he declared.

Obama said doctors and nurses from the United States who have volunteered to fight Ebola in West Africa are heroes who deserve dignity and respect.

His remarks came amid debate between Washington and several states over how returning health care workers should be monitored. The White House has pushed back against overly restrictive measures, including proposals for travel bans or isolation measures adopted by some states.

“Yes, we are likely to see a possible case elsewhere outside of these countries, and that’s true whether or not we adopt a travel ban, whether or not you adopt a quarantine,” Obama said from the White House, surrounded by health care workers who have volunteered or will volunteer to serve in Liberia, Sierra Leone or Guinea.

“We have to keep in mind that if we’re discouraging our health care workers, who are prepared to make these sacrifices, from traveling to these places in need, then we’re not doing our job in terms of looking after our own public health and safety,” he added.

Obama did not mention any specific case, but a nurse who treated Ebola patients in West Africa and has shown no signs of the disease was isolated in a hospital tent in New Jersey and now is abiding by a voluntary quarantine in her home state of Maine. The nurse, Kaci Hickox, said Wednesday that she planned to defy those guidelines if the state’s policy didn’t change by Thursday.

The White House has argued that stricter measures adopted by states such as New Jersey and New York could hurt efforts to recruit doctors and nurses to volunteer their services in West Africa. The federal government’s guidance says only health care workers who have been exposed to Ebola directly should face isolation.

Still, the Pentagon said U.S. troops returning from Ebola response missions will be kept in supervised isolation for 21 days.

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