As Military and VA Coronavirus Cases Surpass 50,000, Recovery Indicators Appear

Two women wearing scrubs and masks Pittsburgh VA Medical Center
Two women wearing scrubs and masks exit the Pittsburgh VA Medical Center on Monday, April 27, 2020, during the coronavirus outbreak. (Steve Mellon/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via AP)

The total number of COVID-19 coronavirus cases topped 50,000 in both the Defense Department and the Department of Veterans Affairs this week, with up to a quarter of the cases in each agency confirmed in August alone.

Yet even as the number of positive tests and deaths continues to rise among service members, veterans, employees and family members, the rates of those hospitalized or dying from the pandemic have remained steady in DoD throughout August. And at the VA, hospitalizations have dropped considerably.

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Across the U.S., COVID-19 cases remain relatively high. That’s even as the number of new cases have declined since the July peak, when the country averaged more than 60,000 new cases per day.

As with the rest of the country, DoD saw its cases more than double last month, rising from 18,071 on July 1 to 39,591 July 31, a 119% increase.

But with 13,442 new cases across the services in August, the rate of new infections slowed this month, averaging 1,338 new cases every two to three days. In July, the average was 1,956 additional cases every several days.

So far in August, DoD-affiliated COVID-19 patients -- service members, dependents, civilian employees and contractors -- have been hospitalized at a rate of 15 every two to three days. One to two deaths have occurred every several days, for a total of 80 since the outbreak began.

As of Aug. 26, six military personnel, seven dependents, 50 civilian DoD employees and 17 contractors had died from the coronavirus. A total of 1,175 have been hospitalized since the first case was confirmed in a DoD dependent in February.

The Army -- the largest military service -- has consistently had the highest number of COVID-19 cases since overtaking the Navy in early June. According to the Pentagon, the Army has had 12,925 cases, the Navy 8,548, the Marine Corps 4,585, and the Air Force 5,624.

The National Guard Bureau, which currently has more than 19,000 members activated to support pandemic operations, including testing and facilities cleaning, has had 4,597 total cases since the outbreak began.

At VA, more than 50,800 cases have been confirmed since the outbreak began, with 3,525 VA beneficiaries hospitalized or monitored, a 38% decline from a month ago.

As of Aug. 27, 2,694 VA patients have died from the illness, including 529 in August alone -- the second highest month for COVID-19 deaths at the department since May, when 740 veteran patients died.

Forty-nine VA employees also have died as a result of the pandemic.

The continued outbreak continues to stymie travel, training and schooling across the Department of Defense. Travel restrictions have been lifted at 103 of 241 DoD installations, an increase of just nine bases since July 27.

Some of the Army's largest installations, including Fort Benning, Georgia; Fort Bragg, North Carolina; and Fort Bliss and Fort Hood, Texas, remain on restriction.

Department of Defense Education Activity schools have started welcoming students back in their hallways this month 123 of the system's 160 schools, including nearly all DoDEA schools in Europe and more than half in the Pacific Region.

Twenty-five of 50 DoDEA schools in the U.S. remain closed and are teaching students through remote learning. Of the 25 that have opened or plan to open, one, at Marine Corps Base Quantico, has had to shut down temporarily after a middle school student tested positive for the coronavirus.

The school will be thoroughly cleaned and is scheduled to reopen Aug. 31.

-- Patricia Kime can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @patriciakime.

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