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VA Treats Its First Patient With Coronavirus, Ramps Up Screening Nationwide

This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses.
Centers For Disease Control and Prevention.
This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses.

The Department of Veterans Affairs is taking special precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus nationally as it treats a patient who tested positive for COVID-19  in Palo Alto, California.

VA Secretary Robert Wilkie told House lawmakers Wednesday that the VA had prepared a section of its Palo Alto campus to treat veterans with the virus. He said the patient had been receiving private-sector care but requested to go to the VA for further treatment.

"We train for epidemics,” Wilkie said. “We began moving on supply chain and preparation really before this became a national issue. … We’ve been augmenting our supply chain, we’ve been putting in place those courses of action that we used for ebola and H1N1 in the past, so we will be approaching this as we have these other issues.”

Veterans Health Administration executive Dr. Richard Stone said the agency's biggest concern is its 135 nursing homes that have more than 8,000 vulnerable vets in them.

“We must protect them and therefore, at the risk of some inconvenience, we are screening everyone that's coming into the institutions," he said. “It is most robustly in place in the state of Washington, which has occurred over the last number of days, it is reaching out across the rest of the nation as we speak.”

Stone said similar screenings for respiratory issues are taking place outside of VA emergency rooms. Visitors can expect to see tents set up near ER entrances.

He said the VA is also trying to free up the approximately 1,000 "negative airflow rooms" it has in facilities across the country. They have special ventilation systems to help prevent infections from spreading.

Veterans in Florida are encouraged to call the VISN 8 Clinical Contact Center if they are concerned they may be sick, rather than visit a facility. Nurses and doctors can answer questions and evaluate patients virtually in order to determine their best course of action.

Copyright 2020 Health News Florida

I cover health care for WUSF and the statewide journalism collaborative Health News Florida. I’m passionate about highlighting community efforts to improve the quality of care in our state and make it more accessible to all Floridians. I’m also committed to holding those in power accountable when they fail to prioritize the health needs of the people they serve.