Active COVID-19 cases among Veterans Affairs patients more than tripled in June

Abbie Bennett
July 01, 2020 - 10:53 am
Coronavirus

Photo by 1st Sgt. Rodolfo Armando Barrios Quinones/VA Caribbean Healthcare System

The number of active COVID-19 cases among Department of Veterans Affairs patients has more than tripled in June, to more than 4,100 at 138 hospitals nationwide. 

On June 3, VA saw its lowest number of active cases since the pandemic began, with 1,252 after those cases had fallen steadily for weeks, VA Press Secretary Christina Noel told Connecting Vets. But as June wore on, active cases climbed, more than doubling and then, by month's end, more than tripling -- a more than 227 percent increase. 

On the morning of July 1, VA recorded 4,170 active cases. 

The department has a total of 22,689 cases, 16,889 of which are considered "convalescent," meaning those patients have recovered or it's been at least 14 days since they tested positive. 

Those 22,689 cases represent about 7 percent of the 314,216 COVID-19 tests the department has administered nationwide. 

Veterans Affairs reaches 20,000 COVID-19 cases, 1,500 deaths since March as infections spike

At least 1,629 VA patients have died because of the virus, the department reported, a death rate of about 8 percent, higher than the about 5 percent death rate for virus cases among all Americans, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Among department employees, 2,299 have tested positive and 39 employees have died of the fast-spreading virus. Employee cases and deaths have also continued to increase over the past month. 

VA's increase in active cases originates primarily from VA medical centers in Texas, Arizona, Florida, Illinois and South Carolinas -- areas that have seen significant increases in June among all patients, not just veterans. Active cases at VA are spread across 138 of the department's medical facilities across the country. Eleven VA hospitals in those five states each have more than 100 active cases. 

The Phoenix and San Antonio VA medical centers each have more than 300 active cases. 

Previously, areas such as New York, New Jersey and Washington, D.C. had the most cases and deaths. Now, many of those sites have fewer than a dozen active cases. 

But VA officials have maintained that those increases and "hotspots" are not causes for concern, insisting that the numbers do not necessarily represent increased stress on the department's system of hospitals and clinics. 

Noel told Connecting Vets hospitalizations among VA patients have held generally steady recently at about 24 percent, much lower than the 38 percent from March. VA did not provide information on how many of the patients at each of its facilities were hospitalized. 

The department also still is planning to begin resuming normal operations at some of its medical centers, enforcing mask wearing and social distancing. VA has not announced any changes to those plans in recent weeks as active cases increased, though the department announced a new digital screening tool -- a mobile app -- aimed at helping patients access VA facilities faster.

In emails to veterans, several VA medical centers warned that vets who show up to hospitals or clinics without face coverings will be provided masks. If they refuse to wear them, their appointments will be rescheduled as telehealth appointments, online or by phone. 

 "What the second and possible third waves of this virus will look like depends on us – and whether we take these precautions seriously and are vigilant in our efforts even if others around us do not," some of the emails read. 

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Are you a veteran, family member or VA employee dealing with the coronavirus? Contact Abbie Bennett: abbie@connectingvets.com or @AbbieRBennett. If you require secure communications, email abbierbennett@protonmail.com

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