December has been the deadliest month of the coronavirus pandemic for the Department of Veterans Affairs. And there is still more than a week left to go.

On Tuesday, VA officials reported at least 6,192 total deaths among patients connected with the department, up 1,170 since the start of December.

Previously, the department’s deadliest month of the pandemic was November, when 1,022 deaths were reported.

At least 2,347 of the VA deaths included inpatients who died at VA medical centers. More than a third of all VA deaths related to coronavirus complications have come in the last 50 days of the nine-month pandemic.

VA officials have dismissed month-to-month comparisons of the numbers, noting there could be lag times in reporting of some deaths.

In addition to the patient totals, at least 90 VA employees have died from coronavirus complications. VA officials have declined to say how many of those VA workers who died had direct contact with medical center patients or other veterans. Nationally, more than 317,000 Americans have died from health conditions linked to the virus.

On Monday, the administrator of the state-run veterans living facility in New Mexico was placed on administrative leave while officials there investigate whether proper coronavirus precautions were taken ahead of 21 resident deaths in recent weeks. An administrator of a state-run home in Illinois was fired earlier this month amid similar concerns after 32 veterans deaths there.

VA officials have offered assistance to several of those types of state-run facilities, but haven’t made clear if those type of deaths are included in their totals, since the individuals involved are not necessarily linked to federal VA medical services.

Cases of coronavirus have spiked throughout the United States this fall, totaling more than 17.7 million infections since the start of the pandemic.

Within VA, active cases rose nearly 500 percent from the start of October to the end of November. They peaked at 17,757 on Dec. 11, when the department’s reports on coronavirus cases were removed from public view because of what officials called technical problems with the information.

Officials declined to release any new numbers until Tuesday, when active cases were reported down 15 percent from the last report.

VA leaders have downplayed spikes in coronavirus deaths and cases in recent months, saying that percentages of veterans who need hospitalization because of coronavirus complications has remained consistent or decreased as total cases have risen.

The number of VA inpatients at medical facilities across the country rose to 1,318 last week, more than double the total in early November.

On Monday, VA announced that 155 department medical sites will be distributing the coronavirus vaccine by the end of this week.

But officials have also warned that it may take months to meet the demand, expected to surpass more than 7 million veterans under VA care and department staff.

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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