VA patient deaths rise, active coronavirus cases fall as department eyes return to normal operations

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The number of coronavirus deaths at Veterans Affairs hospitals continues to climb even as the number of active cases among the department’s patients continues to drop steadily, according to the latest data released by federal officials on Wednesday.

At least 1,082 VA patients and 30 department employees have died from complications related to fast-spreading virus in the last three months.

The patient death total is up almost 14 percent in the last week, and has more than doubled since early May. Three VA sites in or near New York city — in Brooklyn, the Bronx and East Orange, N.J. — have accounted for 248 deaths alone.

Fourteen separate medical centers have seen more than 20 deaths from the virus.

Even as the deaths have risen, however, the number of active coronavirus cases in VA care has seen a drop. As of Wednesday morning, officials reported 1,771 cases spread across 138 facilities, a decrease of 25 percent in the last week alone.

In early May, that total was near 3,000. Over the last three months, the department has treated more than 12,500 coronavirus cases, including veteran patients, active-duty military family members, and individuals without any military connection in communities whose hospital systems have been overwhelmed by the pandemic.

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VA staff have conducted nearly 158,000 coronavirus tests since early March. About 8 percent of all tests have been positive. About 8.5 percent of those positive cases have resulted in a patient’s death.

That fatality rate is well above the 6 percent death rate for cases among all Americans, according to the latest data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

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.”

Earlier this week, VA officials announced plans to begin partial re-openings of 20 department medical centers in an effort to return the entire medical system to pre-coronavirus operations.

Since early March, administrators have severely limited access to the medical facilities in an effort to stunt the spread of the virus, which has infected more than 1.5 million Americans.

The 20 “lead sites” will begin allowing some face-to-face appointments and elective medical procedures, based on staff availability and updated safety protocols. Fourteen of the 20 of the sites reopening operations have at least one patient still actively receiving treatment for coronavirus.

About

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.

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