(Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

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WASHINGTON — Reported coronavirus cases among Department of Veterans Affairs patients increased significantly this week, jumping by more than 2,100 from Monday to Friday.

The rise in cases adds to a growing trend in the VA system throughout the fall. Cases have increased 125% since the start of November and 365% since Oct. 1. The department reported that 756 veterans have died this month, as well as 10 VA employees.

The number of veterans hospitalized with the virus has also increased from about 500 at the start of November to 944 this week.

In total, the virus has killed 4,854 veterans and 74 VA employees as of Friday afternoon, and nearly 108,000 VA patients have tested positive since the pandemic began.

Reflecting nationwide trends, hospitals in the Midwest are reporting the most cases across the VA system. The Cleveland VA hospital in Ohio has the most, with 497 veterans currently sick with the virus – an increase of 19% since Monday. The Minneapolis VA hospital has the second-most cases with 437, and Aurora, Colorado, has the third, with 303.

Although cases are surging across the United States, health experts have predicted the country could see a greater surge in numbers after Thanksgiving. Some elected officials and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the nation’s top health agency, discouraged Americans from traveling for the holiday or gathering with people outside of their households.

In addition to categorizing its coronavirus data by location, the VA has begun to reveal the races and ethnicities of veterans who have contracted the virus, the VA Office of Health Equity announced this week.

According to the data, Black veterans account for 21% of coronavirus cases across the VA system and 23% of deaths, despite accounting for only 12% of the overall population of veterans in the United States. About 77% of the overall veteran population is white, according to VA data. White veterans account for 51% of coronavirus cases and 60% of deaths.

Early on in the pandemic, the VA Office of Health Equity said that Black and Hispanic veterans were testing positive for the coronavirus at higher rates than the rest of the veteran population. At the time, VA Press Secretary Christina Noel said the department was using the data to inform its outreach efforts to minority communities. 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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