CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — About 13,000 West Virginians filed for unemployment benefits last week as the economic fallout from the coronavirus continues to hammer the state, federal statistics released Thursday show.
State officials said they have processed more than 164,000 unemployment claims since mid-March as businesses have shut down during the pandemic.
The figures come as Republican Gov. Jim Justice eased up on the third week of his plan to reopen the state’s economy so health officials can monitor the virus caseload.
Justice has already let hospitals resume elective procedures and allowed the reopening of small businesses, outdoor dining restaurants and barbershops. Next Monday, the governor said drive-in theaters and physical therapy centers can open, though his original plan called for offices, gyms, restaurants and other businesses to start opening the same day.
The Justice administration has not given clear benchmarks on testing capacity and protective equipment supplies it wants to have as part of the reopening plan. The governor has also, without explanation, loosened the criteria for lifting virus restrictions.
His plan hinges on having the state’s positive case rate stay below 3% for three consecutive days, reversing a previous goal of having new cases decline for two weeks. The two-week standard was endorsed by the White House and by Clay Marsh, a West Virginia University official leading the state’s virus response. Marsh has said there’s enough downward trend lines to warrant reopening.
At least 51 people in West Virginia have died from the virus and around 1,300 have tested positive, according to state health data.