(Stars and Stripes)

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WASHINGTON – Twenty-seven veterans have died from the coronavirus – the number of deaths at Department of Veterans Affairs hospitals tripling since Friday.

Over the weekend, the department reported deaths in the Bronx, N.Y.; Shreveport, La.; Fargo, N.D.; Milwaukee, Wisc.; San Francisco; Minneapolis; Detroit; Washington, D.C.; and Nashville. The VA reported two new deaths in Indianapolis, two in Brooklyn and five in New Orleans.

The VA had announced deaths in Atlanta; Miami; New York City; Chicago; Indianapolis; Portland, Ore.; and White River Junction, Vt. The veterans have ranged in age from their 50s to 90s. The department has not publicly shared their identities.

In total, the death toll in the United States reached 2,500 on Monday. President Donald Trump announced over the weekend an extension of the country’s social distancing guidelines through April 30, and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, estimated that 100,000 to 200,000 Americans could die during the pandemic.

There were 1,166 positive cases of the virus across they VA system Monday, including 239 in New Orleans and 71 at the New York Harbor Healthcare System in Manhattan and Brooklyn – areas with an explosive growth of cases among the broader population. The VA also reported 53 cases in Atlanta, 50 in Denver, 47 the Bronx and 43 in Washington, D.C.

Of the 1,166 cases, 312 veterans had been admitted to VA hospitals for treatment.

To prepare for a surge of cases, the VA canceled elective surgeries for veterans at its medical facilities and is encouraging veterans with flu-like symptoms to call their VA facility before showing up. Anyone entering a VA facility is being screened.

VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said Friday that facilities were creating two zones in all of its inpatient units, one dedicated for coronavirus patients and the second for all other types of care.

The department has boosted its testing in the past week, following delays with rolling out tests. As of Monday, the VA had administered 13,216 tests.

The agency received nearly $20 billion in a massive $2 trillion spending bill that Congress approved and President Donald Trump signed Friday. The money was directed toward buying more testing kits, medical equipment and personal protective equipment, boosting the department’s telehealth capabilities and sending veterans outside the VA for emergency care, among other things. Twitter: @nikkiwentling

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Nikki Wentling has worked for Stars and Stripes since 2016. She reports from Congress, the White House, the Department of Veterans Affairs and throughout the country about issues affecting veterans, service members and their families. Wentling, a graduate of the University of Kansas, previously worked at the Lawrence Journal-World and Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. The National Coalition of Homeless Veterans awarded Stars and Stripes the Meritorious Service Award in 2020 for Wentling’s reporting on homeless veterans during the coronavirus pandemic. In 2018, she was named by the nonprofit HillVets as one of the 100 most influential people in regard to veterans policymaking.

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