COVID-19 Cases Reaching Record Highs in Military, Among Veterans

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Richard Reid, an independent duty medical technician with the 1st Special Operations Operational Medical Readiness Squadron, administers a COVID-19 test at Hurlburt Field, Florida.
U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Richard Reid, an independent duty medical technician with the 1st Special Operations Operational Medical Readiness Squadron, administers a COVID-19 test at Hurlburt Field, Florida. (U.S. Air Force/Blake Wiles)

The Department of Veterans Affairs is seeing a resurgence of patients with COVID-19, with the number of active cases at 6,454 as of Tuesday, exceeding the record high of 6,424 set July 20.

Meanwhile, the military services continue to struggle to contain the coronavirus, with the seven-day average of new cases across the Defense Department at 703 as of Oct. 30 and inching toward the record seven-day average of 806 set July 22.

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In addition to a surge in cases, VA facilities are seeing an increase in deaths: 4,060 as of Tuesday, with nearly 700 of those in the past month.


At the DoD, deaths among family members, civilian employees and contractors have also risen in the past month. But they are nowhere near the rate of veterans, who are considered to be at high risk for more severe cases of COVID-19 because of age and underlying health conditions. In the past month, 11 more patients affiliated with the DoD have died, bringing the total to 110.

Only one of those deaths was an active-duty service member. Seven members of the Reserve and National Guard have died, along with eight military family members, 68 civilian employees and 26 contractors.

The new figures reflect a third surge in the pandemic that began for the DoD on Feb. 25, with the diagnosis of a military family member in South Korea; the VA saw its first patient March 17.

Across the U.S., the number of new cases per day continues to exceed records set earlier in the pandemic. On Monday, the number of new cases was 93,581, bringing the U.S. cumulative total to more than 9.4 million.

Confirmed deaths in the U.S. from COVID-19 have reached 231,990. But factor in the number of excess deaths that have occurred this year compared to the number of deaths last year -- an indication of additional COVID-19 deaths not accurately counted or related to a health crisis for which a patient didn't seek emergency care because of the pandemic -- and more than a quarter-million American deaths are likely attributable to the pandemic.

Many public health experts believe the recent increases are evidence of a prolonged first wave of the pandemic.

"It's kind of semantics," Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Oct. 26 at the virtual Yahoo Finance All Markets Summit. "You want to call the third wave or an extended first wave. No matter how you look at it, it's not good news."

As with most of the country, VA cases are spiking in the Midwest, with Minnesota and Wisconsin seeing some of the highest numbers of active cases. VA facilities in Colorado, Ohio, Missouri, Texas, North Dakota and several other states each reported more than 100 active cases as of Tuesday.

The DoD does not disclose where it is experiencing outbreaks; however, U.S. Forces Korea has had a minimum of 278 cases in the recent surge, including at least 18 who tested positive after arriving in South Korea from overseas.

The increase has prompted the Defense Department to begin delivering rapid testing to passengers transported to overseas military installations aboard Patriot Express flights leaving from Baltimore Washington International Airport and Seattle Tacoma International Airport.

As of last week, two sailors tested positive on the carrier Theodore Roosevelt and several Marines with the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, deployed to the northern Pacific with the Navy's 3rd Fleet, are in quarantine after testing positive, according to a weekly report from the Centers for Strategic and International Studies.

As of Nov. 2, 85,301 cumulative cases of COVID-19 have been recorded by the Defense Department, including 58,801 service members, more than 13,000 civilian employees, 8,407 dependents and 5,374 contractors.

The number of cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. Army since the outbreak began is nearing 22,000; the Marine Corps has had 7,100 cases; the Navy, 12,585 cases; the Air Force, 9,278 cases; the National Guard, 6,722 cases; and assorted DoD agencies, 408 cases.

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


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