The number of Veterans Affairs patients who have died from coronavirus complications rose to more than 1,000 this weekend, even as the number of active cases of the illness within the department’s medical system continued to decline.
As of Monday morning, department officials had counted at least 1,012 patient fatalities from the fast-spreading illness. Along with veterans in VA medical care, that total includes some active-military personnel and other community members being cared for by VA hospitals.
It does not include 30 VA employees who have died from the illness.
More than 12,000 VA patients have contracted the COVID-19 virus since early March. That total has increased almost 11 percent in the last week alone.
But the number of active cases under VA care has declined steadily since the start of May. As of Monday morning, 2,012 patients within the Veterans Health System were listed as actively dealing with the virus, a decrease of about 24 percent in the last week.
VA leaders have said the continued reduction in cases could mean a return to normal operations at some hospitals and facilities in coming weeks, with non-essential personnel returning to in-office work and physicians resuming in-person appointments for non-critical health issues.
However, that will depend on individual facility recovery rates, which vary depending not only on specific patient levels but also the surrounding communities’ infection rates.
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VA medical centers in the New York City area continue to be among the hardest hit by the coronavirus, which has killed nearly 90,000 Americans nationwide.
To date, four hospital systems around the city — the New York Harbor Health Care system, the New Jersey Health Care System, the VA medical center in the Bronx and the VA Medical Center in Northport — have accounted for 266 deaths and more than 2,300 cases.
Across the entire VA system, 104 different facilities have reported at least one death from complications related to the illness. Thirteen sites have lost more than 20 patients.
The fatality rate among VA patients who have contracted coronavirus is above 8 percent, well above the national rate of about 6 percent for all positive virus reports.
However, VA officials have said the mortality data for their patients “cannot be used to compare VA infection or mortality rates with the community because of differences in population risk, test availability, and follow-up.”
In addition to the VA patients, more than 1,400 department staffers have also tested positive for the virus. Union officials and department leaders have sparred in recent weeks over the availability of testing and protective equipment for hospital workers.
VA Secretary Robert Wilkie is expected to give an update on his agency’s coronavirus response during a House Appropriations Committee hearing on Tuesday afternoon.
About Leo Shane III
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.