Virginia jobless claims reach 500,000 since coronavirus hit

More than a half million Virginians have filed unemployment claims since the coronavirus outbreak hit the state last month, according to new federal data released Thursday.

Thursday’s report from the U.S. Department of Labor showed more than 74,000 Virginians filed unemployment claims last week. That marks the third straight week totals have dipped since weekly claims reached a record-setting nearly 150,000 in the week ending April 4.

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Still, it’s far higher than before the crisis. In the month prior to impact from the coronavirus, jobless claims in Virginia averaged around 2,600.

Altogether, in the six weeks since March 15 for which data is available, about 570,000 people have filed for jobless benefits in Virginia. That’s about 13% of the 4.46 million people the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates make up the state’s workforce.

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Nationally, more than 3.8 million workers applied for unemployment benefits last week as the U.S. economy slid further into a crisis that is becoming the most devastating since the 1930s. Roughly 30.3 million people have now filed for jobless aid over the past six weeks, more than one in six American workers.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam issued an executive order in late March that was later extended closing recreation, entertainment, and personal care businesses and limiting restaurants to offering only takeout and delivery services in order to help slow the spread of the virus.

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Northam said Wednesday that he’s continuing to look at data on testing, hospitalization and other information before deciding whether to extend that order past May 8, when it is set to expire. He reiterated that he’s is open to the idea of opening businesses on a regional basis.

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“We’re going to do it as soon as we can, as soon as it can be safely,” Northam said.

An executive order directing Virginians to stay home unless they must leave for essential services, remains in effect until June 10.

The Virginia Department of Health reported over 15,800 cases of COVID-19 as of Thursday, and the death toll stood at 552. The number of infections is thought to be far higher because many people have not been tested, and studies suggest people can be infected with the virus without feeling sick.