Not So Fast, Vets: Mask Mandate Still in Place at VA Hospitals

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VA Secretary Denis McDonough
VA Secretary Denis McDonough makes his first official tour of a VA facility traveling across Washington, D.C. to the DCVAMC, Wednesday, February 10, 2021. (Dept. of Veterans Affairs)

The Department of Veterans Affairs has lifted its mask requirements for fully vaccinated employees, contractors and visitors to all facilities except those that provide health care, officials said Monday.

VA Secretary Denis McDonough issued guidance Monday that allows those who are at least two weeks past their final vaccine dose to walk around mask-free indoors and outdoors at all non-health care locations.

However, mask mandates remain in place for health facilities. Veterans Health Administration leadership is meeting this week to review the matter, a VA official told Military.com.

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The announcement comes four days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated guidance to say that fully vaccinated people can resume activities without wearing a mask or physically distancing -- except in places where state law or local regulations require COVID-19 restrictions.

The Defense Department removed mask requirements at its facilities Friday.

The VA will continue to adhere to telework guidance and federal building occupancy limits, officials said. Personnel who are not fully vaccinated are expected to follow established mask requirements in VA buildings, they added.

McDonough told VA employees that they will receive updates as the situation changes.

"Thank you for your continued commitment to Veterans, their families and survivors. Our workforce is our most valuable asset, and we truly appreciate your tireless dedication," he said.

The VA reached a grim milestone in the pandemic Monday. It released data showing that 12,000 patients in the VA health system have died from COVID-19. In addition, 140 employees have died.

The pace of deaths and cases has slowed in the past two months, however. As of Monday, the VA was tracking 2,902 active cases of COVID-19 -- the lowest recorded since last September.

The department has racked up 258,991 cases since the beginning of the outbreak.

As of Monday, the VA has administered 5.7 million vaccine doses. More than 2.8 million veterans are fully vaccinated and 290,997 employees -- or more than 70% of the total workforce -- have been fully vaccinated.

Nearly 33 million Americans, or 10% of the U.S. population, have tested positive for COVID-19 and 586,000 have died, according to data maintained by Johns Hopkins University.

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

Related: The VA Has Now Administered More COVID-19 Vaccine Shots Than 42 US States

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