The Department of Veterans Affairs lost its first patient to the COVID-19 coronavirus on Saturday, a 70-year-old veteran who also was Oregon’s first fatality from the new disease.
The Multnomah County man was hospitalized at the Portland Veterans Affairs Medical Center. He had underlying health conditions and tested positive for the virus March 10, Oregon Health Authority officials said in a release Saturday.
The veteran had no known contact with a sick individual or history of travel to a country with widespread activity of the virus that has now affected nearly 133,000 worldwide and killed 4,955.
With cases in the U.S. reaching nearly 2,000 as of last Friday, many VA medical centers moved Monday to restrict all visitors.
From Maine to Michigan to Minnesota to Colorado, hospitals are notifying patients that they can bring a friend or caregiver to necessary appointments but other visitors will only be allowed by approval of hospital leadership.
“As a result of the COVID-19 (novel coronavirus) outbreak in the U.S., beginning at 5:00 p.m. on March 16, 2020, visitors will no longer be allowed access to the medical center,” noted officials at the Memphis VA Medical Center in Tennessee. “This action is being taken as a precautionary measure considering the increased vulnerability of certain patient populations receiving care at the facility.”
The move follows a ban instituted last week on visitors to VA-run nursing home facilities and spinal cord injury and rehabilitation centers.
Across the country, VA is tracking 30 cases of COVID-19 among veterans enrolled in the VA health system, including 5 confirmed cases and 25 presumed to be positive cases until confirmed by the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention.
Among those, 15 are hospitalized at VA medical centers and 15 quarantined in their homes.
As of Monday, VA had administered more than 100 novel coronavirus tests.
The veteran who died Saturday has not been identified. Oregon Health Authority officials said their “thoughts and deepest sympathy” are with the family.
“While we knew we would arrive at this day at some point, it doesn’t lessen the impact,” OHA director Patrick Allen said in a release.
“This is a sobering reminder that this virus is in our community and can be serious for older people and those with underlying conditions,” added Multnomah County Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines. “This loss has motivated us to continue our efforts to minimize the impact of this virus on our community.”
The Portland case is unrelated to an outbreak of the coronavirus at the state-run Oregon Veterans’ Home in Lebanon, where eight residents have tested positive for the virus. They include six men 75 or older and one age 55 to 75, according to the Oregon Department of Veterans Affairs.
“We can’t help but feel special concern for what is happening at our Veterans’ Home," Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs Director Kelly Fitzpatrick said. “It is nothing less than our sacred duty to now fight for them. We will continue to do everything in our power to protect our residents and staff, and mitigate the spread of this virus within our facility.”
Patricia Kime is a senior writer covering military and veterans health care, medicine and personnel issues.