Veterans Affairs officials continue to see a steep rise in the number of active coronavirus cases within their system but no such jump in the number of patients needing critical care for complications from the illness.

Department leaders reported 6,356 active coronavirus cases being tracked by their health system as of Monday morning, an increase of more than 11 percent in the last week and more than 52 percent since the start of the month.

That total dropped below 1,400 cases at the start of June, but has risen steadily over the last seven weeks.

Seventeen separate VA medical centers are tracking more than 100 active cases, including several Texas sites among the hardest hit of any nationwide. The VA Texas Valley Coastal Bend Health Care System in Harlingen has reported 381 active cases, the San Antonio VA site has 283, and the Houston VA medical center has 249.

In recent weeks, however, VA leaders have pushed back on the idea of rising case counts as a cause for concern. They note that the number of patients being hospitalized for coronavirus complications is lower today that it was in March and April.

As of Monday morning, VA was caring for 242 coronavirus patients in intensive care units across the country and 471 patients in acute care. The ICU number is down 19 from one week ago, the acute care numbers up 31.

VA Secretary Robert Wilkie in recent media appearances has insisted that the department is handling the recent nationwide surge in coronavirus cases and preparing for a potentially larger wave later this fall.

Nearly 1,900 VA patients have died from coronavirus since the start of March. That figure is up about 15 percent since the start July, far below the rate of increase in active case numbers.

More than 7 percent of patients in VA care who contract the virus have eventually died from the illness, well above the 5 percent death rate for cases among all Americans, according to the latest data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, VA officials have said the mortality data for their patients “cannot be used to compare VA infection or mortality rates with the community because of differences in population risk, test availability, and follow-up.”

More than 140,000 individuals in the United States and more than 606,000 people worldwide have died from coronavirus complications since last fall.

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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