Veterans Affairs health workers closed April with another grim coronavirus milestone: More than 8,000 patients within the system have tested positive for the fast-spreading illness.
As of Thursday morning, 8,526 individuals in VA care had contracted the illness. That’s an increase of about 8 percent in the last 24 hours alone, and up 40 percent in the last week.
At the start of April, the Veterans Health Administration had reported only about 1,600 cases, meaning the total has risen more than four times over the last 30 days.
The sharp rises mirror the rest of the United States. Earlier this week, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials announced that the number of cases across the country had topped 1 million, and the number of deaths had topped 60 ,000 — more than the number of Americans killed in the Vietnam War.
Deaths among VA patients have also risen sharply in recent days and weeks. The department reported 494 deaths as of Thursday morning, an increase of 37 in the last 48 hours and more than 100 in the last week.
On April 1, VA had reported only 53 fatalities related to coronavirus complications. That means deaths have increased eight-fold in the last month.
Department employees have tested more than 95,000 individuals for the illness, although officials have not publicly updated that total in several days.
In addition, more than 2,000 employees have tested positive for the illness. Twenty have died.
On Wednesday night, congressional Democrats and union officials held an online forum to discuss problems they have seen with supplies (in particular, a lack of personal protective equipment) at VA facilities.
Department leaders have acknowledged shortfalls in recent days but announced on Tuesday that the Federal Emergency Management Agency would supply shipments of more than 4.3 million various types of respirator masks, 1 million facial/surgical masks, 1.5 million gloves and 14,000 face shields to VA facilities across the country.
On Thursday, for the first time in two weeks, the death rate among VA patients who have contracted the illness fell below 6 percent. That figure has been as high as 6.5 percent in recent days, and now sits close to the national rate of about 5.7 percent.
Worldwide, more than 228,000 individuals have died from the fast-spreading virus.
About 1 in every 14 people who test positive for coronavirus have eventually died from complications. In the United States alone, that figure is closer to one in 17 individuals.
However, health officials have said that the actual infection rate for the virus may be much higher than publicly known, because of the lack of testing available in many areas and the unknown number of asymptomatic carriers.
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.