This article by James Clark originally appeared on Task & Purpose, a digital news and culture publication dedicated to military and veterans issues.
The Department of Veterans Affairs will not test non-veteran employees for COVID-19, including health care workers who are showing symptoms, an agency spokeswoman confirmed to Task & Purpose Friday.
“Per federal law, VA cannot provide medical care to non-veterans,” Christina Mandreucci, the VA press secretary, told Task & Purpose. “So if a non-veteran employee’s screening indicates that they may have symptoms of COVID-19, they would be referred to their health care provider for testing.”
Mandreucci said an employee showing symptoms who is a military veteran, however, would be tested at VA facilities.
The VA has more than 390,000 employees, with the vast majority working within the Veterans Health Administration that manages, runs, and staffs the department's sprawling network of hospitals.
Roughly 123,000 of those workers are veterans, according to an infographic from 2019, meaning that the majority of the department's workforce is made up of civilian employees who are not be eligible to be tested for COVID-19 at the hospitals and clinics where they work.
“If you feel like you've come into contact with a COVID-19 positive patient, and you weren't wearing a mask or something like that, you can't go down to employee health and get tested," a nurse at the Portland Oregon VA Medical Center said on condition of anonymity.
"If you stuck yourself with a needle, you'd go down to employee health and they would check you for Hepatitis C, and other things, but if you've been exposed to a COVID-positive patient, they advise you to go home, talk to your primary care physician, have them order a COVID test, if you can get one, and then have them run it," the nurse added.
Two other nurses at VA Medical Centers in Washington, D.C., and Tampa, Florida, expressed similar sentiments to Task & Purpose.
Although the VA does not test non-veteran staff for the coronavirus, all VA employees are being screened for symptoms, Mandreucci told Task & Purpose.
That screening consists of three questions:
- Do you have a fever or worsening cough or shortness of breath or flu-like symptoms?
- Have you or a close contact traveled to an area with widespread or sustained community transmission of COVID-19 within 14 days of symptom onset?
- Have you been in close contact with someone, including health care workers, confirmed to have COVID-19?
Following the screening, if an employee shows symptoms they will be tested — through their personal provider if they are not a veteran — treated, and quarantined, in accordance with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mandreucci said.
As for the availability of testing kits, the department has 130,000 tests on hand, Mandreucci told Task & Purpose, adding that the "VA’s testing capacity meets current demand."
As of Friday, the VA has administered nearly 9,000 COVID-19 tests nationwide, and 571 veterans have tested positive for COVID-19.
According to the World Health Organization, there are more than 460,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases, and more than 20,800 deaths globally, with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reporting that there were more than 85,000 cases and more than 1,200 deaths in the U.S. alone.
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