More than 2,040 VA patients have died from complications related to the virus since early March, when the first death at a department medical center was reported. That total translates into about 17 patient deaths a day for the last four months.
Despite recent increases in states like Texas, Florida and Arizona, VA hospitals in New York and New Jersey have still seen the most patient deaths from the fast-spreading illness.
The VA New Jersey Health Care System (centered just outside New York City) experienced 113 patient deaths since the start of the outbreak. The New York Harbor VA Health Care System and VA hospital in the Bronx, both inside the city’s borders, have seen 105 patient deaths and 85 patient deaths, respectively.
Among all VA patients, about 5.5 percent of individuals who contract the virus eventually died from complications related to the illness. That number had been as high as 8.5 percent as recently as mid-June.
Nationally, the fatality rate is about 3.5 percent. 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.”
Active coronavirus cases among VA patients remain up significantly from early June, when department officials saw the lowest rates of infection since the start of the pandemic.
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As of Monday evening, more than 6,213 VA patients had active cases of coronavirus, up 49 percent from the start of July and nearly 347 percent since the start of June.
However, that total was down about 2 percent from a week earlier, and the totals in recent days have shown some leveling off after more than a month of steady rises in active cases.
The U.S. military has increased health protection requirements in at least 21 bases in recent weeks, particularly across Texas and Florida, as the COVID-19 rate continues to spike among service members, more than doubling in the last month.
VA officials have noted that despite the rise in cases, the number of seriously ill patients being treated for coronavirus complications at department hospitals has seen decreases in recent weeks.
VA press secretary Christina Noel said that as of Monday, the department was caring for 267 coronavirus patients within intensive care units (an increase of 25 individuals in the last week) and 392 patients in acute care units (a decrease of 79 individuals in the last week).
She said the hospitalization rate among VA patients has reached its lowest levels since the pandemic began, with only 18 percent of positive cases requiring hospitalization in June, less than half the 38 percent rate seen in March.
Fourteen VA medical center sites currently have more than 100 active coronavirus cases among their patients, including five separate sites in Texas.
The department has only released limited demographic data about coronavirus patients, but this week confirmed earlier press reports that the illness appears to affect Black and Hispanic patients more than other races.
Among VA cases so far, 46 percent of veterans with positive coronavirus tests were white, 34 percent were Black, 13 percent were Hispanic. About 5 percent of veterans nationwide identify as Hispanic and 9 percent as Black.
However, Noel said officials have not seen any such disparities among the death rate in coronavirus cases.
The department has stepped up coronavirus testing in recent months, with nearly 450,000 patients tested since the outbreak began. In May VA officials averaged 2,745 tests per day. By the end of June, that figure was up to 4,356 daily.
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.