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News about coronavirus in Florida and around the world is constantly emerging. It's hard to stay on top of it all but Health News Florida can help. Our responsibility is to keep you informed, and to help discern what’s important for your family as you make what could be life-saving decisions.

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

Red and gray 3D model of COVID-19. Looks like a sphere with red trees on it.
Centers For Disease Control and Prevention
The patient is being treated at the VA's Palo Alto, CA facility, but officials say precautions are being taken nationwide to prevent the spread of the virus.

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 Centerif 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.

Stephanie Colombini joined WUSF Public Media in December 2016 as Producer of Florida Matters, WUSF’s public affairs show. She’s also a reporter for WUSF’s Health News Florida project.