Active cases of the coronavirus continue to grow at Department of Veterans Affairs medical centers nationwide, up 300 percent since June 3. Now, some VA medical facilities are postponing services in hot spots.
After cases had been falling for weeks, VA saw its lowest number of active cases on June 3 with 1,252, according to Press Secretary Christina Noel. Now, that number is 5,009 as of Monday evening -- a 300 percent increase.
Active cases more than doubled in the month of June alone as the virus surged in some parts of the country.
On Monday, VA recorded a total of 24,942 cases of the virus, 18,240 of which are considered "convalescent," meaning those patients have recovered or it's been at least 14 days since they tested positive.
The 24,942 cases represent about 7 percent of the more than 338,109 COVID-19 tests VA says it has administered nationwide, though it's unclear if that total is the number of unique tests or total tests overall.
At least 1,693 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, 2,510 have tested positive and 40 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 and the beginning of July among all patients, not just veterans. Active cases at VA are spread across 138 of the department's medical facilities across the country. Twelve 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 systemwide changes to those plans in recent weeks as active cases increased, but at least one VA medical center in a hot spot is pulling back.
In an email to veterans on Monday, the Bay Pines, Florida VA Healthcare System said it was seeing increased demand "for testing, outpatient care and inpatient services due to COVID-19.
Bay Pines is No. 7 across the VA system for most active COVID-19 cases, with 172. Five patients have died because of the virus at Bay Pines.
"We will not be further expanding healthcare services at this time," officials said in the email.
To meet those demands, the medical center said it planned to suspend al non-acute surgical procedures. Veterans will be contacted to reschedule, officials said.
For now, face-to-face outpatient appointments will continue as scheduled, but officials said veterans may be contacted to switch to a virtual option. The medical center's Emergency Department remains fully operational.
In previous emails to veterans, several other VA medical centers warned that vets who show up to hospitals or clinics without face coverings will be provided masks and 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.
Are you a veteran, family member or VA employee dealing with the coronavirus? Contact Abbie Bennett: firstname.lastname@example.org or @AbbieRBennett. If you require secure communications, email email@example.com.
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