Active coronavirus cases among Veterans Affairs patients topped 4,000 cases for the third consecutive day on Tuesday, potentially signaling another spike in illnesses within the department’s medical system in coming weeks.
However, VA officials said they are not concerned about the recent rise, saying that the hospitalization rate among those patients is “at their lowest point of the pandemic.”
As of Tuesday evening, more than 66,000 VA patients had tested positive for coronavirus since the start of the U.S pandemic in March. At least 3,677 have died from complications related to the virus, an average about 119 deaths a week over the last seven months.
Active cases among patients reached their highest levels in July, at one point topping 6,400 cases across more than 140 VA medical center sites. That number dropped below 2,500 cases in mid-September before beginning to rise again in recent weeks.
The number of active cases has risen nearly 50 percent in the last month, according to publicly available VA data. More than 7.7 million Americans have contracted the virus and more than 214,000 have died from issues related to the illness.
VA press secretary Christina Noel said that trends in new coronavirus cases “generally reflect what is going on in the country and local communities.”
She also said that “case counts and other cumulative totals are not the best measure of how COVID-19 is affecting VA patients, because those numbers always increase over time and never decrease.” She did not address questions regarding the rates of active cases, which have increased and decreased throughout the pandemic.
VA officials said as of Oct. 5, the rate of hospitalization among virus patients was 13 percent, the lowest of any month since the pandemic began.
However, VA public releases show the number of current inpatients being treated for virus complications jumped nearly 27 percent in the last week alone, with 432 being cared for as of the start of this week.
VA has administered more than 787,000 coronavirus tests in the last seven months. In addition to the patient deaths, at least 58 VA employees have died from the virus.
Noel said that as a precaution ahead of the traditional flu season in the fall and early winter, all VA medical centers are “taking precautions and considering the unique circumstances of their state and local markets, environmental safety preparedness and clinical risk assessments.”
As of August, the department has required all VA Health Care Personnel to get an annual influenza immunization as a condition of employment, to “help minimize flu-related sick leave among employees.”
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.