Total COVID-19 cases at VA surpass 40,000, but fewer patients are sick

Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Rene Azombi, a Navy reservist temporarily assigned to Navy Medicine Readiness and Training Command Great Lakes (NMRTC) to assist with COVID-19 screening efforts, conducts a nasal swab on a recruit.
Photo credit U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Caylen J. McCutcheon/Released

Cases of the coronavirus at the Department of Veterans Affairs surpassed 40,000 this week, though fewer patients are sick with the virus as active cases drop following surges in June and July.

As of Aug. 4, VA recorded at least 40,371 total cases of the virus. That number includes 5,000 active cases along with more than 33,000 "convalescent" cases -- patients who were recovering or were 14 days removed from a positive test -- and more than 2,000 deaths. The 40,000 case milestone was first reported by Military Times.

VA's total includes veterans, employees and "other" patients, some active-duty, some civilians cared for under the department's Fourth Mission. 

From a low point in active cases on June 3 of 1,252, VA saw its number of patients actively sick with the virus surge more than 400 percent. Now, active cases have leveled somewhat, and while still fluctuating, seem to be trending down again. Active cases at the beginning of the month were up nearly 300% from the beginning of June. 

VA's public-facing COVID-19 case tracker, which is updated a few times per day and does not track historic data, has shown major fluctuations in active cases, with much lower counts typically in the mornings and higher counts in the evenings.

For example, while VA recorded 5,574 active cases the night of Aug. 3, by early morning Aug. 4, that number had dropped below 5,000. That total is down from two weeks ago, when active cases reached more than 6,200, but still up from the 4,170 on July 1 and the 1,252 of June 3. 

Nationwide, VA is still seeing surges in hotspot areas of the country such as Florida, Texas and South Carolina. Thirteen VA medical centers have 100 or more active COVID-19 cases, with those states leading, along with Atlanta, Las Vegas, Chicago, Phoenix, Birmingham and sites in Louisiana and Mississippi.

Since the pandemic began, 2,148 VA patients have died because of the virus. The number of deaths nearly doubled in the last two months.

VA's mortality rate is more than 5 percent, higher than the about 3 percent death rate for Americans overall, according to the most recently available data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

Since March, VA has administered 482,633 coronavirus tests nationwide. VA officials say the department's massive health system cares for about 9.5 million veterans. 

Months ago, VA warned that some veterans may be at higher risk for the virus, but provided no data. Last week, VA provided Connecting Vets data that showed Black and Hispanic veterans make up nearly half of all department COVID-19 cases, though those veterans make up only 23% of VA's total patient population. 

Black, Hispanic veterans make up 23% of VA patients but nearly half of all VA COVID-19 cases

VA refuses to give Congress more information on its COVID-19 cases, lawmakers say

More than 2,000 Veterans Affairs patients have died of COVID-19 since March

Veterans Affairs active COVID-19 cases up 407% since June 3, hospitalizations down

Phoenix VA transfers patients amid COVID-19 surge as VA 'Fourth Mission' covers 46 states

Reach Abbie Bennett: or @AbbieRBennett.
Want to get more connected to the stories and resources Connecting Vets has to offer? Click here to sign up for our weekly newsletter.