The number of active coronavirus cases among Veterans Affairs patients continued to slowly rise in recent days as the total number of deaths from the virus among department patients rose above 3,500 this week.
As of Tuesday evening, VA reported 3,641 active cases of the virus, an increase of 7 percent in the last week and more than 21 percent in the last month. The cases are spread out across 139 department medical centers nationwide.
Active cases of the virus had dropped below 2,500 in mid-September, but have risen slowly since then. Those totals topped 6,400 in mid-July, when the outbreak within the VA patient population was at its peak.
VA officials have said they do not consider the active case counts or death totals to be accurate measures of the severity of the ongoing pandemic among their patient population. Instead, they point to hospitalization rates among patients who test positive, which have remained steady over the last few months.
As of Tuesday afternoon, department medical staff were caring for 340 inpatients with complications related to coronavirus.
On Wednesday morning, the death total among the VA patient population was 3,528. That figure is up almost 300 individuals in the last 20 days. Nationally, more than 210,000 individuals have died from complications related to the virus.
The fatality rate among VA patients who test positive for the illness is about 5.5 percent, well above the 3 percent rate for the rest of the country. But VA officials have cautioned against comparing their patient population to the rest of the country, noting the increased dangers the virus presents to individuals who are elderly and infirm, two descriptors that encompass most of the department’s medical cases.
VA has tracked more than 63,000 cases of coronavirus among patients in the last seven months. Officials have administered more than 765,000 tests for the virus since the start of March.
In addition to the patient deaths, at least 58 VA employees have died from complications related to coronavirus in the last seven months. Department officials have said most of them were not in medical jobs involving direct contact with patients.
About 2,000 department employees are currently working with non-VA facilities as part of the department’s federal responsibility to act as a support network for local communities overwhelmed by the pandemic.
On Wednesday, VA officials they will resume in-person benefits services at 10 regional offices in coming weeks.
“We have robust safety measures in place that will allow us to resume in-person services while protecting the health and safety of veterans, their families and our team members who serve them," VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said in a statement.
More information on those officers is available on the VA web site.
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.