Veterans Affairs hospitals have added nearly 1,000 new coronavirus cases in the last two days, an increase of more than 14 percent that pushes the total number of virus patients to nearly 8,000 across 140 department sites.
The news comes as the number of Americans with coronavirus topped 1 million, and the number of deaths nationwide connected to the fact-spreading illness surpassed 58,000 — more than the number of U.S. fatalities in the Vietnam War.
In addition to the 7,903 VA patients diagnosed with coronavirus, at least 2,153 department employees have also tested positive. That’s an increase of about 14 percent from one week ago.
Twenty-two VA sites have recorded more than 100 coronavirus cases among patients. The three hardest-hit sites are all in the New York City area: the VA New York Harbor Healthcare System (568 cases); the East Orange, N.J., VA medical center (517 cases); and the VA medical center in the Bronx (490 cases).
Department hospitals in New Orleans, Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. have all recorded more than 200 cases.
Seventy-six separate VA medical centers have seen at least one patient die from coronavirus-related complications. As of Wednesday morning, VA has seen 482 deaths from the illness. That’s up almost 100 deaths in the last six days alone.
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.
In addition, 20 VA employees have died from complications connected to the virus. VA officials have said six of those were in patient care roles.
They also have insisted that the infection rate among VA employees is comparable or smaller than the rate at other major medical care systems.
Department officials have warned that veterans with symptoms such as fever, cough, or shortness of breath should immediately contact their local VA facility for assistance, but must contact the facilities before visiting to help limit spread of the illness.
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.