BOISE, Idaho — Bradley Knickel is a disabled U.S. Navy veteran who has a unique hobby. During this new era of social distancing, Knickel has spent hours building his own gold mining equipment out of his own garage.
"I haven't got a lot of gold yet, but I haven't really tried hard enough," said Knickel. "But now that I have all my equipment, the gold mining experience will be a little bit easier."
It's a hobby that has helped Knickel stay at home in an effort to prevent being exposed to the coronavirus, but that also extends to his healthcare.
Knickel will have his next appointment in the safety of his own home through the VA's telehealth program that the VA is using to attempt to limit the spread of COVID-19 by having fewer veterans physically show up at the VA.
"We have the biggest telehealth market in the entire country," said Robert Wilkie, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs.
The VA has canceled elective surgeries and other nonessential services to not only limit the spread of the coronavirus but also provide more flexibility for their staff and more space in the VA hospital.
"Veterans aren't flooding the VA for little things, those can be taken care of through telehealth," said Knickel.
The VA has screening tents set up at the entrance to the Boise VA. However, they want veterans who have symptoms of the coronavirus to call them before showing up.
"We don't want people who don't feel well coming to see us," said Wilkie. "We want them to tell us how they feel. We want them to give us information. Then we can determine what the next step is, and in many cases, we tell them 'let's use telehealth.'"
The Boise VA has had two staffers test positive for the coronavirus. The first staffer was one of the first three confirmed cases in Ada County, that staffer has been quarantined at their home ever since.
On Friday, the VA had a second staffer test positive for COVID-19. The VA is currently trying to determine how, where and when this staffer contracted the virus.
As of Friday, the VA has tested 1,192 people in total across the country, and 130 people have tested positive for COVID-19. Two veterans have lost their lives because of the virus.
So far, there haven't been any veterans at the Boise VA who have tested positive.
For Bradley Knickel, he looks forward to this spring and a chance to use his new gold mining equipment, but in the meantime, he's happy to continue to tinker as he stays home in an attempt to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
"I'm not too concerned because I pretty much stay at home by myself anyway and doing what I'm supposed to be doing by keeping clean and washing my hands," said Knickel.