The number of active cases of COVID-19 at the Department of Veterans Affairs has dropped by 38% in the past month, but the case count continues to be nearly three times that of late May, before much of the country began easing stay-at-home orders.
The VA reported Monday that 3,960 patients have active cases of the coronavirus, down from 6,424 four weeks ago. The decline is good news for a population considered to be at risk for serious cases of COVID-19 -- an aging population with chronic health conditions related to their military service.
But the VA continues to see an upward trend in fatalities: With nearly two weeks to go until the end of the month, at least 338 veterans have died from the virus. In all of June, 400 veterans died, while 473 veterans succumbed to the illness in July.
The deadliest month for veterans with COVID-19 in the VA health system was May, when more than 700 patients perished.
A total of 46,431 patients have been treated by the VA for the coronavirus since the first veteran was admitted to the VA Medical Center at Palo Alto, California, on March 2. More than 40,000 have recovered.
As has been seen in the last month across the country, the number of cases at the VA has surged in the Sun Belt, with VA hospitals in Texas, Arizona, Georgia and Florida seeing an increase in patients with the coronavirus. However, deaths remain highest at VA hospitals in New Jersey and New York, which were hit hard early in the pandemic.
The total number of U.S. veterans who have died as a result of the pandemic is unknown. The VA is tracking patients only within its own health system, as well as employees. Deaths in veterans homes run by states are not included in the count.
As of July 17, more than 1,000 veterans had died in 47 state-run veterans homes in 34 states.
More than 4,300 VA employees have been diagnosed with COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic, and 46 have died.
While the number of cases appears to be on the decline, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie told Government Executive magazine last week that the department is preparing for a resurgence of cases, along with influenza, as fall approaches.
Wilkie said that, following challenges at the beginning of the pandemic in ensuring a steady supply of personal protective equipment for all employees, the department has been stockpiling and is in "an excellent place."
"We have months of supplies on hand," he said.
Wilkie added that the department has tested "hundreds of thousands" of employees and veterans and plans to continue testing all employees in nursing homes, as well as residents.
Across the U.S., more than 5.4 million people have tested positive for COVID-19 while 170,000 have died.