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San Diego VA reports 6 COVID-19 positive cases among its employees

The VA reported it was screening veterans and staff who show symptoms of the virus.

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — The number of coronavirus cases in San Diego County reached 297 Wednesday, an increase of 55 from Tuesday, tying the highest day- over-day increase in COVID-19 cases so far.

Of the nearly 300 positive-testing individuals, 59 have been hospitalized, with 29 of those patients listed as critical. The number of coronavirus deaths in San Diego County -- two -- remained unchanged.

Among the confirmed positive cases this week are six VA San Diego Healthcare System employees at the San Diego Counseling Center.

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In accordance with CDC guidelines and the employees’ status, these individual are currently in home isolation, mitigating further risk of transmission to other patients and staff.

To date, five veterans have tested positive for COVID-19 at the San Diego VA Healthcare System.

Employees who spoke to News 8 on the condition of anonymity, for fear of retaliation, said they believe the first employee reported it on March 15 and was infected by a homeless veteran.

“We have no evidence that is the case. I would say that it is more likely when you see a cluster of individuals at a workplace that the exchange is between those individuals," said Dr. Eric McDonald, Medical Officer for Epidemiology at the San Diego County department of Health and Human Services.

Employees worried about the spread and also said that even if they could do their job from home, they were not allowed to telework. If they did, it would be unpaid. 

Dr. McDonald commented about that concern during Wednesday’s daily briefing.

“We are working with the organization on a timely notification of employees of that location,” said McDonald.

Employees said as of Wednesday, those who could work from home could telework.

An internal memo, obtained by News 8, was sent to employees by Dr. Robert Smith - San Diego VA Healthcare System Director - confirming the cases.The memo further states there are 12 additional inpatients in isolation with pending test results, 126 people under investigation, and there have been 128 individuals with negative test results.

“We believe that this cluster of cases has been identified, however, they may be more close contacts that may be identified as time goes by,” said McDonald.

The VA reported it was screening veterans and staff who show symptoms of fever, cough, and shortness of breath and who meet the CDC criteria for evaluation of COVID-19 infection.

Per CDC guidance and VA protocols, individuals known to be at risk for a COVID-19 infection are immediately isolated to prevent potential spread to others.

VA confirms 6 VA employees at The San Diego Counseling Center have rested positive or COVID-19 and 5 veterans positive as well. 126 individuals are under investigation.