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Jobless claims soar in Ohio, US

Nearly 190,000 Ohioans applied for unemployment benefits last week — 26 times more than the preceding week — and nearly 3.3 million Americans did the same as businesses shutter in the midst of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The 187,780 claims filed March 15 to 21 in Ohio represent a more than 2,500 percent increase in claims from the number filed the preceding week (7,042).

Also, that amount ranks high in comparison to claims filed at the height of the 1980s recession. In December 1981, 205,159 claims were filed in Ohio. For further perspective, 2019 had 369,594 claims.

Individual county-by-county numbers were not available Thursday, according to a spokesman with Ohio JFS who hopes the numbers will be ready today.

Thursday’s unemployment numbers from the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services and U.S. Department of Labor underscore the hard-hitting impact COVID-19 has on suffering state and national economies.

Layoffs are sure to accelerate as the U.S. economy sinks into a recession. Revenue has collapsed at restaurants, hotels, movie theaters, gyms and airlines. Auto sales are plummeting, and car makers have closed factories. Most such employers face loan payments and other fixed costs, so they’re cutting jobs to save money.

As job losses mount, some economists say the nation’s unemployment rate could approach 13 percent by May. By comparison, the highest jobless rate during the Great Recession, which ended in 2009, was 10 percent.

“What seemed impossible just two weeks ago is now reality,” said Nancy Vanden Houten, an economist at Oxford Economics, a consulting firm. “The U.S. economy will experience the largest economic contraction on record with the most severe surge in unemployment ever.”

In Ohio, work is being done to bolster the state’s unemployment benefit system that was overwhelmed by the surge in COVID-19-related claims.

Servers are being added to expand capacity, about 15 times more than normal, said Lt. Gov. Jon Husted on Thursday during the state’s daily virus briefing.

“We know not everybody is getting served at the pace the demand requires, but you should know they are working through that and the team is trying to build capacity,” Husted said, reassuring filers benefits would be retroactive.

Husted also advised filers to consider accessing the system during nonpeak hours to alleviate wait times.

Ohio JFS continues to urge people to file claims online. Those without internet access or who have case-specific questions can call 1-877-644-6562 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturdays.

Workers who lose their jobs as a result of the coronavirus can enter the mass-layoff number 2000180 on their applications. Affected individuals who already have submitted claims without this number do not need to add it.

Across the U.S. the economic deterioration has been swift. As recently as February, the unemployment rate was at a 50-year low of 3.5 percent. And the economy was growing steadily if modestly. Yet by the April-June quarter of the year, some economists think the economy will shrink at its steepest annual pace ever — a contraction that could reach 30 percent.

In its report Thursday, the Labor Department said 3.283 million people applied for unemployment benefits last week, up from 282,000 during the previous week. Many people who have lost jobs in recent weeks, though, have been unable to file for unemployment aid because state websites and phone systems have been overwhelmed by a crush of applicants and have frozen up.

That logjam suggests Thursday’s report actually understates the magnitude of job cuts last week. So does the fact that workers who are not on company payrolls — gig workers, free-lancers, the self-employed — currently aren’t eligible for unemployment benefits even though in many cases they no longer are able to earn money.

Questions are being asked in Ohio regarding those types of workers. Husted said federal legislation addresses those folks for benefits, and the Ohio JFS team already is preparing and waiting on guidance from the U.S. Labor Department.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

rselak@tribtoday.com

Valley records first 3 deaths from COVID-19

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, left, and Dr. Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health, leave the State Room before their daily update on the states response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic on Thursday, March 26, 2020 at the Ohio Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. (Joshua A. Bickel/The Columbus Dispatch via AP)

The number of Ohioans dead from COVID-19 jumped 50 percent in one day and hit home with one fatality each in Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties.

The Ohio Department of Health on Thursday reported 15 deaths, including the three in the Mahoning Valley, up from 10 a day earlier.

The state had 867 confirmed cases of the virus in the state Thursday, up from 704 Wednesday.

The Ohio Turnpike Commission sent out a news release Thursday night stating an employee at Exit 218 (Niles-Youngstown) has tested positive, but the employee “is doing well and expected to make a full recovery.”

“The health and safety of our employees, vendors, contractors and customers is our top priority. Our immediate response has been to take all actions necessary to manage the situation effectively and swiftly. All necessary steps are being taken to promptly inform everyone who may have come into close contact with the affected employee while at Exit 218 so they may self-quarantine and / or seek medical advice or attention, as necessary.

Additionally, we are taking steps to further decontaminate the interchange. The Commission will continue to comply with protocol and instructions issued by the Ohio Department of Health (DOH) and the Center for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC),” the turnpike stated in its release.

The state had 67 confirmed cases on March 17 and has seen a rapid spread.

It’s going to get considerably worse, said Dr. Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health.

“Based on the best data we have currently in Ohio, at the COVID-19 peak surge we could be seeing 6,000 to 8,000 new cases a day,” she said. “The more we can push that surge off, the better hospitals can prepare their systems.”

She expects the virus to peak in late April or early May. Acton praised Ohioans for practicing social distancing to reduce the spread.

It’s slowing down the virus, but not stopping it, she acknowledged.

“We are going to hit peak capacity in our hospitals, and the folks with COVID-19 will be staying longer, which is why we need to increase the capacity in our hospitals,” Acton said. “Everything you are doing matters.”

As many as 40 to 70 percent of Ohioans already may be infected with the virus, she said, although many will experience no symptoms or mild ones.

Acton added: “We know that we are going to almost double what we’re using (in health care resources) when the surge comes. We will go above the current capacity.”

Gov. Mike DeWine said: “We need to keep practicing social distancing. It slows the spread from person to person. It is buying us time. We want to make sure that no matter where you are when you get sick that there is a process for getting you the health care you need.”

LOCAL DEATHS

Officials with county health departments in the Valley declined to give details on the three people who died from COVID-19.

Kris Wilster, Trumbull County Health Department’s director for environmental health, only confirmed the death and that the department found out about it Thursday.

He urged people to “practice social distancing, wash your hands and if you have a temperature of 100.4, you should stay home.”

Wilster also said he hoped the fatality is the only one the county will experience.

In a statement, the Mahoning County Public Health Department extended its “sympathies to the family and friends of our community member who has lost their battle with this illness. This is the time for our residents to remain unified and unselfish in order to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 throughout our communities. All residents are urged to only go out into the public for essential needs and to continue to practice social distancing along with primary disease prevention measures.”

The Columbiana County Health District’s statement read: “This resident was a neighbor, relative and friend; and with a tight-knit community like ours, one loss is too many. Let this be a reminder that the disease is here and the time for action is now. It is essential that you remain in your homes. If you must go into public, continue to practice social distancing and standard disease prevention precautions.”

In addition to the three Valley deaths, others are two each in Cuyahoga, Miami, Lucas, Stark and Franklin counties and one each in Erie and Gallia counties.

Mahoning County reported 51 confirmed COVID-19 cases Thursday, up from 42 Wednesday.

Trumbull County confirmed 12 cases, up from nine a day earlier.

Columbiana County went from four cases Wednesday to five Thursday.

STATEWIDE IMPACT

Statewide, 223 people were hospitalized as of Thursday, up from 182 Wednesday, and 91 people were in intensive-care units with COVID-19, up from 75 a day earlier.

“What we do now will determine if we overrun Ohio’s hospitals and get to a situation where our medical teams are making life-and-death decisions,” DeWine said. “We don’t want to be in that position. I worry about this every day. Stay home.”

When asked if it was possible that students wouldn’t return for the remainder of this school year, DeWine said, “Absolutely, but we just don’t know yet.”

Ohio was the first state in the nation to close all kindergarten through grade 12 schools. DeWine issued the order March 12, effective at the end of the school day March 16, and lasting until at least April 3. When DeWine issued that order, only five cases of novel coronavirus were confirmed, including one in Trumbull County, in all of Ohio. That was two weeks ago.

On Sunday, DeWine ordered the closing of nonessential businesses and for the public to stay at home, effective at 11:59 p.m. Monday, through April 6 with exemptions.

Also Thursday, DeWine asked residents who can donate personal protective equipment (PPE) — masks, goggles, gloves, gowns and face shields for healthcare workers and first responders — to email together@governor.ohio.gov. There is a shortage of the items, he said.

DeWine announced late Thursday that he was postponing next Tuesday’s State of the State address because of the pandemic.

dskolnick@tribtoday.com

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