Active coronavirus cases in the Veterans Affairs health care system are at their lowest levels in nearly three months, but the department remains on pace to add another 600 deaths from the illness by the end of the month.

As of Monday evening, VA officials reported 2,945 active cases of coronavirus at 135 medical centers across the country. The figure marked a full week of fewer than 3,000 current cases at VA facilities for the first time since last June, and a decrease of more than 26 percent fewer cases than one month ago.

VA officials have said they see the fluctuating case counts as an unreliable measure of the department’s response to the ongoing pandemic. Instead, they point to monthly hospitalization rates as a more relevant figure.

So far in September, about 17 percent of positive coronavirus diagnoses have resulted in hospitalizations, up slightly from the 16 percent in August but roughly in line with the average since early summer. At the start of the pandemic in March and April, those rates were 38 percent and 24 percent.

However, even as active cases have dropped in the VA system in recent weeks, the number of deaths related to the virus continues to rise.

About 300 patient deaths from complications related to coronavirus have been announced since the start of September. VA officials reported 820 deaths in August, the deadliest month of the pandemic so far.

The department has downplayed those recent death increases, saying that the release of the information could be delayed by days or weeks and may not fully reflect current conditions among patients.

At least 3,188 VA patients have died from complications related to coronavirus in the last six months. That means about one in 18 patients who test positive for the virus eventually die from complications related to the sickness.

About 6.5 million Americans have contracted the fast-spreading virus since the spring, and more than 193,000 have died from the illness.

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.

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