The Department of Veterans Affairs over the weekend surpassed 60,000 coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic about six months ago, with more than half of those cases added since mid-July.
As of Monday morning, the department had totaled 60,278 cases of the virus in the last 200 days. The total represents less than 1 percent of the nation’s 7-million-plus positive coronavirus cases since the start of March.
The department’s health system has about 9 million enrolled veterans, nearly 3 percent of the country’s total population. However, many of those enrolled veterans do not use VA as their sole provider for medical care. The department has administered about 710,000 coronavirus tests since the start of the pandemic.
Veterans Affairs officials have seen an uptick in active cases in the last two weeks, reporting 3,258 across 139 separate sites. That’s up more than 700 patients in the last 12 days, although still about half the peak of active cases the department saw in mid-July.
Despite releasing the case count numbers each day, department officials have downplayed those figures and instead highlighted hospitalization rates as 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.
As of Monday morning, at least 3,377 patients being tracked by VA officials have died from complications related to the coronavirus. That represents about 1.6 percent of the roughly 204,000 Americans who have died from the disease since the start of March.
The death rate among VA patients who have contracted the virus is nearly about 5.6 percent, a figure that has remained steady for the last month and sits well above the 2.9 percent rate for all Americans.
However, department officials have cautioned against comparing the two numbers, noting that the VA patient population faces more medical complications and tends to be older than the country as a whole. Both are significant factors in the impact of the illness.
Of VA’s coronavirus case totals, most of the number are veterans, but the figure also include some dependent family members, VA employees, active-duty members and non-veterans living in areas where local private medical centers have been overwhelmed by the pandemic.
In the spring, department officials shut down nearly all non-emergency appointments at VA medical centers in an effort to help stem the spread of the virus. However, in recent months the department has begun to rescheduled some of those meetings and welcome back patients, visitors and volunteers at sites where social distancing and other precautions can take place.
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.