Coronavirus cases among VA patients surpass 13,000
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WASHINGTON — More than 13,300 Department of Veterans Affairs patients are sick with the coronavirus — a number that more than doubled in the past 20 days and represents the most active cases the VA has ever had at one time.
Cases have increased 108% since Nov. 2. On that day, VA cases hit an all-time high, surpassing the number of active cases seen during a surge of the virus in July. Every day since Nov. 2, the department has set a new record.
Deaths are also on the rise. As of Monday, 4,584 veterans had died of the virus — up 12% since the beginning of the month. In addition, 69 VA employees have died, five of them in the past 20 days.
The Minneapolis VA hospital has the most cases across the VA system, with 433 patients who are currently sick with the virus — an increase of 113% in a little over two weeks. The Cleveland VA hospital in Cleveland, Ohio, has the second-most cases with 417, and Aurora, Colorado, has the third, with 310.
VA hospitals across the national are experiencing more cases than previously seen. Fifty-one hospitals reported having more than 100 active cases Monday. Only two VA locations reported having no active cases: the hospital in Spokane, Washington, and the VA outpatient clinic in the Philippines.
The numbers reflect a nationwide trend that shows a third wave of the virus affecting most of the United States, particularly the Midwest. Public health experts are worried the situation will become exasperated after Americans gather for Thanksgiving this week. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the nation’s top health agency, is pleading with Americans not to travel for the holiday or spend time with people outside of their household.
VA Secretary Robert Wilkie has not issued public guidance discouraging veterans from traveling or gathering outside of their households this Thanksgiving. However, the local director of the VA health system in New Orleans — which was hit hard by the pandemic early on — has called on veterans there to limit travel and postpone their gatherings.
Fernando Riviera, director of the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System, published a public letter to patients Monday. He said the New Orleans hospital would likely raise its threat level because of an increased rate of positive coronavirus tests and may soon limit services to non-coronavirus patients.
In March, the New Orleans facility accounted for one-third of the VA’s coronavirus cases, and the hospital canceled elective surgeries. On Monday, the hospital reported 36 active cases — one of the lowest counts across all VA facilities. However, Riviera was anticipating a surge of hospitalizations.
“Our facility is in the ‘yellow,’ or ‘surge watch,’ right now, but will likely move into ‘red,’ or ‘surge warning,’ in the near future,” Rivera wrote. “If this surge continues to increase, we may once again limit services. Similar to earlier this year, we will need to remain flexible and resilient to ensure veterans who need care receive it.”
The New Orleans hospital was chosen as one of five VA sites that will distribute coronavirus vaccines once they become available, Riviera said. He predicted it would be a “long and difficult path” to reach that point.
AstraZeneca announced promising results Monday of its vaccine trials, becoming the third drug maker to do so. Health officials have said that once available, the first doses are likely to go to high-risk groups. The general public could have access to a vaccine in the spring.
“Many of us will have to change our holiday plans by limiting travel or postponing gatherings,” Riviera wrote. “These sacrifices will give us the time we need as a health care system to deliver vaccinations without being overwhelmed by Covid cases.”