Robert Wilkie
Washington CNN  — 

The Department of Veterans Affairs announced Tuesday that more than 134 nursing homes across the country have adopted a “no visitors” policy in an effort to lower the risk of exposure to the coronavirus among older veterans who are particularly vulnerable to infection.

VA Secretary Robert Wilkie said earlier Tuesday that those facilities, which house more than 8,000 veterans, are “going into an emergency situation.”

“While the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) still considers COVID-19 to be a low threat to the general American public, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced, March 10, new safeguards aimed at limiting COVID-19 exposure risk for two of its most susceptible patient populations: nursing home residents and spinal-cord injury patients,” the VA said in a press release.

“All VA nursing homes will adopt a “No Visitor” stance, meaning no outside visitors will be permitted to see residents,” the release said.

The only exceptions to this no visitor stance “will be in compassionate cases, when Veterans are in their last stages of life on hospice units,” according to the department.

VA nursing homes have also suspended new admissions but “will continue to welcome resident transfers from VA facilities once medical personnel have determined patients are not at risk for infection.”

Tuesday’s announcement comes as the VA says it is tracking six patients with either a Center for Disease Control confirmed or presumptively confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis.

Wilkie confirmed during testimony on Capitol Hill earlier this month that one veteran is being treated at a VA facility in Palo Alto, California, and said the agency has a section of the campus set up to receive veterans who have the virus.

That case marked the first time coronavirus directly touched the second largest federal agency, which provides care to veterans at 1,243 health care facilities across the country.

But the number of veteran cases has steadily increased in recent days as a VA spokesperson told CNN Tuesday that five presumptive positive diagnoses are awaiting CDC confirmation. Those patients are located in Nevada, Colorado, Oregon, Louisiana and Washington.

Despite some complaints from local health officials in California about a lack of kits used to test for the virus, Wilkie told CNN earlier this month that he is not aware of any such reports coming from VA facilities.

“We do all sorts of things, we have questionnaires, we take temperatures … we are using our own resources,” he said. Asked if any VA facilities have requested additional testing kits, Wilkie said: “Not that I know of,” citing the fact that he was only aware of one case at the time.

The VA has about 1,000 testing kits, Veterans Health Administration head Dr. Richard Stone told House lawmakers during that hearing last week, adding that the department plans to order more. Each kit is capable of testing hundreds of people.