Almost 5K West Virginians file for unemployment aid

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — About 4,800 West Virginians filed for unemployment aid last week as the state’s economy continues to reel during the coronavirus pandemic, federal officials said Thursday.

The new applications are slightly down from the previous week’s filings and come as Republican Gov. Jim Justice pushes forward with a plan to lift virus restrictions on businesses.

West Virginia’s unemployment rate hit 15% in April and state officials said they have processed more than 164,000 unemployment claims since the pandemic forced widespread business shutdowns.

Nationwide, about 41 million people have applied for jobless benefits since the outbreak began. Many economists predict the country’s unemployment rate will reach around 20% this month.

Justice has allowed most businesses in the state to open back up. This week, he expanded the reopenings to bars, zoos, cabins, lodges and museums. On Saturday, spas and video lottery retailers can resume operations. Casinos can reopen June 5.

Justice’s plan to lift restrictions hinges on the state’s positive test rate staying under 3% for three days, loosening a previous goal of having the number of new cases drop for two weeks. Clay Marsh, a West Virginia University official leading the state’s virus response, has said the state has enough downward trending indicators to ease restrictions.

At least 74 people in West Virginia have died from the virus and around 1,900 have tested positive, according to health officials. Cases ticked up within the last week after hotspots were reported in the eastern panhandle and at a rural prison in Randolph County, where more than 100 inmates have tested positive.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the highly contagious virus can cause severe symptoms and be fatal. The vast majority of people recover.

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