AUSTIN (KXAN) — As COVID-19 cases pick back up across the state of Texas, there is another group seeing a significant increase: the one we honor on Veterans Day.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs reports a spike in coronavirus patients across the country—including here in Texas.
According to a press release on Monday, the VA has hired “more than 59,095 new employees since March 29 in response to the surge in demand for care during the pandemic.”
The agency’s online tracker shows the data, which only includes patients tested or treated at VA facilities. It currently reports 658 active cases in Texas right now and 385 known deaths.
The VA also reports nearly 8,000 convalescent cases at Texas facilities since the pandemic began.
“A big thing among veterans, and I see it a lot, is you become complacent,” said Clint Williams, who served in the U.S. Army for 13 years.
Online VA data indicates between Oct. 11 and Nov. 11, the agency has seen more than 18,000 new COVID-19 cases.
“They’re your friends. But right now, they’re still your friends, but you have to do it in a respectful way: stay six feet, wear your mask, you know,” said Williams.
That’s the message he’s sending as post commander to his members at the VFW in Kyle.
Williams counts their group lucky: 119 members, most of them over the age of 50 and no COVID-19 cases, yet.
“We’re still operating under the 25% rule because we’re doing everything virtual,” Williams said.
The VA has also been shifting more patients to virtual, through telehealth care, in order to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Their latest weekly report indicates a more than 1,500% increase in home or telehealth visits.
“The COVID pandemic actually put things in a warp speed for us,” said Greg Newman, D.O.
He’s the urgent care medical director for Baylor Scott & White Hillcrest Marketplace.
They are offering the same virtual services, which he says were being utilized by 50% of patients at one point during the pandemic.
“Somebody can just go in and maybe just do an e-visit where it’s purely almost like a text and question-and-answer session, to a video visit, where they can actually look at the provider and the provider can look at them,” Newman explained.
He says currently about 25% of patients are still utilizing telehealth. That’s how Williams has been seeing his VA doctor since the pandemic began, and he’s trying to minimize the infection risk for all his members.
“We’re trying to do everything the right way,” he said.
The CDC says patients hospitalized with COVID-19 in the Veterans Health Administration had more than five times a higher risk for in-hospital death compared to patients hospitalized with the flu.