Veterans Affairs officials dismissed concerns about a recent coronavirus dance party among leadership at an Oregon medical center even as the number of cases among patients and staff in the health care system continues to climb.

The event, made public by local Oregon media over the weekend, included at least 16 staff and raised concerns among some employees at the Roseburg VA Health Care System that local leaders were not taking social distancing recommendations seriously.

“I understand this is a rural county and it’s not spreading fast, but this is how it spreads,” one VA employee told the Oregonian.

Video of the event was posted on the hospital’s internal network and featured local director Keith Allen. National VA public affairs officials referred all questions on possible discipline to the Oregon hospital. In a statement, Roseburg public affairs officer Tim Parish downplayed the incident.

“This video was made in an administrative, non-clinical area where (personal protective equipment) is not required,” he said. “All staff who participated were volunteers and had been properly screened, per Centers for Disease Control and VA guidelines.

“VA realizes the importance of social distancing during this national emergency and will reiterate that to all employees involved.”

The Roseburg medical center has already reported three cases of coronavirus among patients and four among staff. Nationwide, at least 20 VA employees have died, 14 of whom were in non-clinical roles.

Almost 2,000 VA staffers across dozens of VA medical sites have tested positive for coronavirus.

The number of positive cases among patients under VA care rose to 7,342 on Tuesday, up more than 2,000 cases in just the last 10 days. That’s about 8 percent of all VA patients tested for the fast-spreading virus.

Nationally, almost 1 million Americans have tested positive for the virus.

So far 457 VA patients have died from complications related to the illness. That’s an increase of more than 20 since Monday morning. On April 4, that number was under 100. At least 75 sites have seen at least one death.

The death rate among VA patients who have contracted the virus is more than 6 percent, a figure that has risen as high as 6.5 percent over the last few weeks. In early April, fewer than 4 percent of patients battling the illness eventually died from it.

Nationally, the rate of death among all patients who test positive for coronavirus has risen to more than 5.5 percent. That level was also about 4 percent in early April, according to data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, the VA patient population being tested and treated for coronavirus may be more vulnerable to the illness because it is significantly older and less healthy than the American population as a whole. Medical experts have said that elderly and infirm individuals are particularly susceptible to fatal respiratory issues connected to the virus.

Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.

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