The number of active coronavirus cases among Veterans Affairs patients has doubled since the start of June, due mostly to rising numbers of infected individuals at hospitals in Texas, Florida, California and other virus hot spots across the country.
On Thursday morning, VA officials reported 2,815 active cases of the fast-spreading virus across 132 medical facilities. That’s up more than 60 percent in the last week alone and twice the department’s reported active case total of 1,390 at the start of June.
The number of active cases had dropped steadily through May since peaking around 3,000 in the early part of the month. Now, nearly all of those reductions are gone.
Fifteen VA medical centers have added 20 or more new coronavirus patients in the last 10 days, according to department statistics. The VA hospital in San Antonio has the most active cases with nearly 200, more than 150 of them coming in the last two weeks.
Public health officials have warned of significant coronavirus spikes in states in the south and west in recent days, with several posting their highest infection numbers since the start of the pandemic fourth months ago.
But Veterans Affairs officials in recent days have downplayed those concerns, saying that higher active case numbers do not necessarily mean increased pressure on department facilities.
VA leaders will not release specific breakdowns of patients receiving care inside department hospitals versus those isolated at home, but say the hospitalization rate of patients currently sits around 24 percent, significantly lower than the 38 percent peak in March.
They are not saying if there are any changes at hospitals in areas seeing spikes in coronavirus cases.
Along with the San Antonio hospital, VA leaders have seen a significant rise in active cases at Texas medical centers in Dallas (up 35 cases this month), near Killeen (up 41 cases this month), and in Harlingen (up 46 cases this month).
Three Florida VA medical centers have seen similar increases: The Orlando site is up 87 active cases this month, the Tampa site is up 87, and the Bay Pines medical center is up 72 cases.
Three California sites, two Arizona sites and two South Carolina sites also have fifty or more active cases. Those five states are home to 14 of the 15 hospitals with the highest VA coronavirus infection numbers at the moment.
As of Thursday, 1,560 patients in VA care have died from coronavirus complications in the last 100 days. That number is up 30 percent in June alone.
The percent of fatal complications among VA patients who test positive has decreased slightly in recent weeks, dropping below 8 percent for the first time since early may. However, it still sits 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.
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.”
VA patients tend to be older than the American population as a whole and are more likely to have multiple health complications, putting them at greater risk from the virus.
More than 121,000 Americans and 483,000 individuals worldwide have died from complications related to the coronavirus.
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.