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US Secretary of Veterans Affairs talks COVID-19, testing and more with 6 News

Secretary Robert Wilkie spoke with 6 News about the VA's COVID-19 response.

TEMPLE, Texas — Editor's Note: Video of the inside of the VA in this report was provided to 6 News by the VA. It was filmed in early March before they started getting active COVID-19 inpatients.

File video depicting testing in the report was pulled from 6 News' archives.

The country's veterans have served on the front lines for the U.S. and now they, like us all, are faced with a pandemic. 

"The benefit with dealing with veterans is that they've been in tough situations before and they responded very well based on their experiences to this tough situation," United States Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert Wilkie said. 

He said when looking at COVID-19 cases, 16,000 veterans have tested positive and about 14,000 have recovered.

"The hospitalizations, they are incredibly low. We're somewhere around 350 COVID patients in hospital system that has 14,000 beds," Secretary Wilkie said. 

We spoke with Secretary Wilkie about testing. He said if veterans are showing signs they can get a test. They are not at the point where tests are just given out to anyone Secretary Wilkie said. 

"Because we do have patients within our system we have to take care of and we have to take care of our front line workers," Secretary Wilkie said. 

He said they are preparing in the case of a possible bounce back in fall and winter. He said in this emergency, supply chains were disrupted and they have to store up more than they ever have on equipment and medicine. Also, make sure people are ready to move to wherever there are hot spots.

Secretary Wilkie said they learned they had to make tough decisions at the beginning, specifically mentioning the decision to not allow visitors.

RELATED: Coronavirus causes Veterans Affairs to adopt 'no visitors' policy in nursing homes

He advised veterans to look at the messages they are sending out, follow the guidelines and call them if you do not feel well. 

For the general public, the message was pretty similar.

"My message is the same for non veterans, follow the instructions. Just be safe by engaging in common sense. A lot of hand washing and lot of looking around at what's going on in your community," Secretary Wilkie said.

6 News asked about how they plan to stay ahead of the coronavirus

"We're not going to stand down our emergency operations, however we are going to, when the need arises and when the situation on the ground is applicable we are going to return those hospitals and clinics to normal operations," Secretary Wilkie said. 

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