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Phoenix, New Hampshire, Washington state VAs limit visitations as coronavirus outbreak worsens

VA Puget Sound Health Care System.

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By STEVE BEYNON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: March 5, 2020

WASHINGTON — Department of Veterans Affairs’ facilities in Phoenix, New Hampshire and Washington state are each limiting visitors to curtail the spread of illness as federal and state governments scramble to contain the coronavirus outbreak.

VA officials said Thursday that no children younger than 15, or anyone with flu-like symptoms, are allowed in VA hospitals in Phoenix, and patients are limited to two visitors at a time. In the department's Puget Sound Health Care System, which includes a major hospital in Seattle and another in Tacoma, Wash., children younger than 12 are not permitted. 

The department said the restrictions in Phoenix are an effort to curtail influenza and made no mention of coronavirus, which does have similar symptoms such as fever, sore throat, cough, body aches, diarrhea/vomiting within the past 24 hours. The restrictions come amid two positive cases of the coronavirus in Arizona this week. So far, 36 people in the state of been tested, according to the state’s Department of Health Services.

“The flu is currently widespread in our community. As of Feb. 26, there have been 14,115 cases of flu (also known as influenza) in Maricopa County, this is a 95% increase from this time last year,” according to the VA’s Phoenix network of facilities. “When sick people visit our veterans, they put our patients and staff at risk. As many of our veterans also have other chronic medical conditions, they are at a higher risk for flu and flu-related complications.”

However, the Seattle VA hospital said it is cracking down on visitation because of coronavirus. Restrictions there include visitation ending at 8 p.m., children 12 and younger are not permitted to visit now and certain entrances and sections of the hospital are closed to visitors. Washington is one of the hardest-hit states with 70 diagnoses and 10 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Overall, the number of coronavirus cases in the United States has reached more than 150 in 18 states, with 12 deaths as a result of the fast-spreading illness. Worldwide, the virus has infected nearly 97,000 and killed more than 3,300 people.

A VA facility in Manchester, N.H., has also put out a warning that visitation is closed off at its nursing home.

Lawmakers have pressed the VA on how it is preparing for a possible outbreak of coronavirus, amid concerns a significant portion of treatment could fall on the department, which has the largest health care network in the nation, with roughly 9 million veterans enrolled in the department, half of whom are older than 65.

On Thursday, a VA patient was diagnosed with coronavirus at the VA Southern Nevada Healthcare System and is continuing to get care from the department. VA is awaiting the CDC to confirm the diagnoses, according to Christina Mandreucci, a spokeswoman for the department. 

The VA is caring for one veteran diagnosed with coronavirus in Palo Alto, Calif., VA Secretary Robert Wilkie told lawmakers Wednesday. However, the department cited privacy issues when officials declined to provide details on the patient’s age or how he or she came into contact with the virus.

Beynon.Steven@Stripes.com
Twitter: @StevenBeynon 

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