Active coronavirus cases among Veterans Affairs patients reached a four-month low this week as department officials announced another large influx of virus vaccine doses headed to hospitals across the country.
As of Thursday night, department medical centers were tracking 5,520 patients with active cases of the virus at 140 different locations. That’s the lowest daily reported total since Oct. 25, and a 60 percent drop in the last month alone.
The number of cases reported by VA spiked to nearly 21,000 in mid-January, as virus levels rose to their highest rates of the nearly year-old pandemic across America. But as vaccine efforts have ramped up nationwide in recent weeks, virus levels have steadily dropped.
VA officials reported that about 227,000 patients have gotten the virus since March of last year. More than 28 million Americans have contracted coronavirus since the start of 2020.
VA medical staff have administered more than 2.2 million vaccine doses since mid-December. Of that total, about 550,000 are veterans who have received both ends of the two-shot regimen.
On Wednesday, acting VA Under Secretary for Health Richard Stone told members of the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee that the department typically administers about 140,000 doses each week, but federal officials have agreed to supply an extra 600,000 in early March to accelerate those efforts.
In an interview with CNN later that day, VA Secretary Denis McDonough said he is pleased with the vaccination efforts so far.
“There’s work to be done, to be certain, including in rural and highly rural areas,” he said. “We’re prioritizing that now with new, innovative efforts.”
Department leaders expect to vaccinate about 7 million individuals in coming months, including all VA staff and veterans who qualify for department health care programs.
However, House lawmakers introduced a bill this week to allow the department to vaccinate all veterans in America who ask for assistance, and for all caregivers of veterans enrolled in department home-based and long-term care programs.
VA leaders have signaled they would be open to doing that, if enough vaccine doses are supplied to the department by federal sources.
Last week was the first time in at least six months that the department reported no new burials at veterans cemeteries related to coronavirus-connected deaths. The department has recorded more than 6,000 such funerals. As of Friday morning, VA had totaled 10,428 deaths among patients from complications related to the virus.
Nationwide, more than 500,000 Americans have died from virus-related conditions.
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.