Second staffer at key New York VA hospital contracts coronavirus

A second staffer at a major New York veterans hospital has tested positive for coronavirus, raising concerns among veterans advocates about the potential spread of the illness within the medical center.

Department of Veterans Affairs officials said they have had no conversations about shutting down the Brooklyn campus of the Veterans Affairs New York Harbor Healthcare System, a key medical hub for the city, and are taking precautions to make sure the facility is working to limit potential exposure for patients, workers and visitors.

“In accordance with (Center for Disease Control) guidelines and the employees’ clinical status, the employees are in isolation, mitigating further risk of transmission to other patients and staff,” said Steve Piork, director of the VA New York Public Affairs Office.

“In accordance with CDC guidelines, all staff members that treat patients follow the personal protective equipment protocols.”

Last week, VA leaders confirmed that a staffer at the Brooklyn campus tested positive for fast-spreading coronavirus. Officials declined to specify the employee’s role, but individuals connected to the facility said the individual was a physician who had been tending to patients before the diagnosis.

Piork on Monday again declined to identify the latest staffer confirmed to have tested positive for the virus. But individuals connected to the facility said the worker was assigned to the facility’s emergency room operations.

Earlier in the day, N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that more than 20,000 New Yorkers have been infected by the coronavirus in recent days, representing about 5 percent of the worldwide total of confirmed cases. Nearly 100 deaths have been attributed to the illness in New York City alone.

VA has confirmed 204 cases among patients at 50 sites across the country. So far, the New York Harbor VA system has reported 10 cases: five among inpatients, five who have been sent home for quarantine.

According to New York City statistics, about 54,000 veterans live in Brooklyn.

Department officials said they have implemented “an agressive public health response” to the pandemic, including “clinical screening at VA health care facilities and protective procedures for patients.”

In recent days, union leaders representing VA employees have pressured VA management to increase availability of protective equipment, supplies, training and education to address the virus outbreak.

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