The Department of Veterans Affairs surpassed 40,000 coronavirus cases on Monday, but the number of active cases within the health system continued to decline since hitting a peak in late July.

The total number of cases among the veterans health system’s patients has grown by more than 10,000 in the last 19 days alone, as the virus outbreak has spiked in hot spots around America.

But Veterans Affairs officials have repeatedly emphasized in recent weeks that they are seeing progress in combating the fast-spreading illness, with hospitalization rates down and patients recovering from the virus rising.

The number of active cases among VA patients as of Monday evening was 5,574. That’s down about 10 percent from two weeks ago, when the number of active cases topped 6,200 patients.

The total is still up about 33 percent from July 1 and more than 300 percent from June 1, when the department recorded its lowest levels of active cases (about 1,400) since the first few weeks of the pandemic in March.

Thirteen VA medical center sites are currently dealing with 100 or more active coronavirus cases. They include four in Florida (Orlando, Gainesville, Miami and Tampa), three in Texas (Harlingen, San Antonio and Houston), and two in South Carolina (Columbia and Charleston).

At least 2,148 patients and 42 VA employees have died from complications related to the illness. That figure has grown at a slower rate than the active case count, but is still nearly double the total deaths recorded on June 1.

More than 5 percent of patients in VA care who contract the virus have eventually died from the illness, above the 3 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 32,500 patients in the department’s health system have recovered from the illness.

On Monday, during a White House press conference, President Donald Trump praised the department’s use of remote health care options since the start of the pandemic, allowing veterans to continue to receive health care despite access restrictions at many sites.

“Now telehealth is a critical part of our path forward in the VA,” he said. “It is becoming a critical path, especially with our senior citizens. You don’t have to go to the doctor’s office, you don’t have to go to hospitals.”

Nationwide, about 4.6 million Americans have been infected with the coronavirus and about 155,000 have died from complications related to it.

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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