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VA hospitals see new coronavirus clusters in Arizona, Florida, Texas

By NIKKI WENTLING | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 18, 2020

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WASHINGTON — Reflecting nationwide trends, Department of Veterans Affairs facilities have seen clusters of new coronavirus cases in Arizona, Texas and Florida, which now rank at the top of the list with the most active cases across the VA system.

Phoenix, the VA facility reporting the most active cases, had 86 Thursday — an increase of 26 since Tuesday. San Antonio, with the second-most active cases, had 79 Thursday, an increase of 33 in the past two days.

The sites replaced New York City-area hospitals, which had reported the most active cases during much of the coronavirus pandemic.

“VA is seeing clusters of COVID-19 cases in the same general areas non-VA providers are,” VA Press Secretary Christina Noel said.

Overall in the U.S., 10 states saw record numbers of new coronavirus cases this week: Alabama, Arizona, California, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Carolina, Texas and Florida. Experts predicted Florida could become the next epicenter of the virus, CNN reported.

Four hospitals in Florida were among the top 10 VA facilities with the most active cases. Bay Pines had 65 on Thursday, Miami had 52, Orlando reported 42 and Tampa had 40.

Though the cases in those areas have increased among VA patients, Richard Stone, the executive in charge of the Veterans Health Administration, said last week the increases haven’t been as sharp as expected.

“There are a number of troublesome states,” Stone told the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “We have not seen that increase in cases correlate well to the veteran population. Therefore, we remain with substantial capacity in those areas.”

The proportion of VA patients with coronavirus who are hospitalized is currently 22%, Noel said, down from a high of 38% in March but up slightly from 21% in May.

When asked by a senator why there were fewer cases among veterans in the new hot spots, Stone said it was too early to tell.

“I think that’s part of the research we have to go through,” Stone said. “Veterans … have been exposed to multiple immunizations, and we’ve wondered, ‘Is there something different about the American veteran that’s allowing us to do well in this?’ It’s too early for me to extrapolate that. The researchers will be working on this for a long time.”

In total, 1,493 VA patients and 35 employees have died of the virus since mid-March. About 14,500 VA patients have recovered from the virus, and 1,793 remain infected.

wentling.nikki@stripes.com
Twitter: @nikkiwentling

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