Active cases of coronavirus at Veterans Affairs hospitals have increased again in recent days as the total number of deaths from the pandemic among VA patients topped 3,300 this week.
But VA officials have not seen a significant change in the number of inpatients suffering from the respiratory virus in the last month, which they say is a positive sign that the department’s health system is still managing to deal with the deadly illness.
Earlier this week, the U.S. death total from coronavirus complications topped 200,000. More than 6.8 million Americans have contracted the virus in the last six months.
The number of VA patients who have died from coronavirus reached 3,310 on Wednesday morning, up more than 300 in September alone. About 42 percent of those — around 1,400 — were inpatients at department medical centers at the time of death.
VA officials have said that daily reports may not accurately reflect the timing of all of the deaths, since some facilities face delays in reporting fatalities.
In addition to the patient deaths, at least 56 department employees have died from coronavirus complications since March.
Active case counts are updated by the department multiple times each day, and topped 3,000 on Tuesday evening for the first time in nearly three weeks. That number had dropped as low as 2,543 on Sept. 16.
However, Wednesday’s active case count still sits about 6 percent below the 3,302 total the department reported on Sept. 1, and less than half the peak of 6,213 cases reported on July 27.
Despite releasing the case count numbers each day, department officials have downplayed those figures and instead said that hospitalization rates are their preferred method of tracking coronavirus response.
So far in September, about 17 percent of active cases have required hospitalization, roughly the same as in recent months.
Of the more than 58,000 coronavirus cases handled by the department in the last six months, about 88 percent of the patients are veterans. The remainder are a mix of active-duty and reserve members, veterans' dependents, VA employees and civilians in local communities where health care resources have been overwhelmed by the pandemic.
More than 700,000 coronavirus tests have been administered by the department nationwide.
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.