The number of confirmed COVID-19 coronavirus cases among Department of Veterans Affairs employees rose to 2,153 as of Tuesday, an 11% increase in less than a week. But the number of deaths remains unchanged, at 20, a bit of good news for employees at the nation's largest health care system.
According to figures released by the department, the cases span 114 VA facilities, but with infections affecting less than 1% of the VA's total workforce, the rate is lower at VA than at several large health care systems, including a 4.4 percent infection rate at University of Washington Medicine and 2.1 percent of the Detroit-based Henry Ford Health System, said VA spokeswoman Christina Noel Tuesday.
"VA's personal protective equipment practices have helped limit Veterans Health Administration COVID-19 employee infection rates," Noel said in a release.
VA locations with 100 or more staff members diagnosed with the coronavirus include Jamaica Plain, Mass., the Bronx and Manhattan, New York, VA medical centers, East Orange, N.J., and New Orleans.
Those locations are among the highest treating veterans with COVID-19. On Tuesday, 7,481 VA patients had been diagnosed since the start of the epidemic and 461 had died. As of Wednesday, 7,925 VA patients had been diagnosed since the cases and 482 deaths had been reported, an increase of more than 400 new cases in a single day. Locations with the most cases include the Bronx, with 471 cases, New Orleans, with 466 cases and New York Harbor Health System, with 560 cases. Locations surpassing more than 200 cases include Washington, D.C., Chicago and Boston.
Last month, the American Federation of Government Employees sued the Department of Veterans Affairs as well as the Bureau of Prisons seeking hazardous duty pay for the agencies' federal workers. They are seeking a hazard pay 25% differential.
AFGE members last week took to the streets at VA locations around the country, including Baltimore, Maryland; Salem, Virginia; and Carrollton, Georgia, to protest working conditions and demand broader testing for COVID-19 and additional personal protective equipment.
Union members also are planning a virtual town hall Wednesday with several Democratic members of Congress, including House Veterans Affairs Committee Chairman Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., on the AFGE Facebook page.