Active coronavirus cases among Veterans Affairs patients are up more than 70 percent in the last month and now sit at their highest level since early August, according to data released by the department this week.

As of Tuesday night, more than 4,700 patients were dealing with active cases of the virus, which has sickened at least 69,000 department patients and 8.2 million Americans since the start of March.

Of the VA group, 445 individuals are current inpatients at department health centers, receiving supervised medical care for complications related to the illness. That inpatient number is up by almost one-third in the last month.

VA leadership has repeatedly dismissed concerns about the rising number of active cases, insisting that the hospitalization rate among those patients remains at a low percentage of individuals.

The increases in VA numbers come amid a nationwide rise in coronavirus cases. Last Friday, the total number of new cases of the illness reached nearly 70,000 as multiple states reported three-month highs in their case counts.

At least 3,746 VA patients have died from issues related to coronavirus since mid-March, an average of more than 120 deaths per week. VA has reported 310 new deaths in October alone, although officials noted that some of those death reports may lag and could have occurred earlier.

More than 5 percent of VA patients who contract coronavirus eventually die from complications related to the illness. That’s significantly above the roughly 3 percent death rate among all Americans infected by the pandemic.

However, VA officials have discouraged comparing their patient population to the rest of the country, noting the increased dangers the virus presents to individuals who are elderly and infirm, two descriptors that encompass many of the department’s patients.

In addition to the patient deaths, at least 58 VA employees have also died of complications related to the virus. Department medical staff have administered more than 820,000 virus tests since the start of the pandemic, with about 8.5 percent of all tests resulting in a confirmed diagnosis.

Department officials continue to encourage any veterans with a fever, cough, or shortness of breath to immediately contact their local VA facility for advice on the proper medical response.

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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