West Virginia had processed a record 41,549 unemployment claims, as of Thursday morning, in the week since Gov. Jim Justice ordered bars and sit-down restaurants closed for the coronavirus pandemic, Commerce Secretary Ed Gaunch said Thursday.
He said WorkForce West Virginia has processed more than 10,000 low-earnings claims for people who have had their work hours and pay reduced because of the state of emergency.
At a briefing just two days earlier, Justice chief counsel Brian Abraham said the government had received about 16,000 initial unemployment claims through Monday. That was before Justice’s stay-at-home executive order and the order closing all non-essential businesses.
“Commerce recognizes the significance of this situation, first and foremost, to the health and well-being of our fellow West Virginians,” Gaunch said. “But we also recognize the economic impact this event is having on our employees and employers in West Virginia.”
Gaunch said Commerce will function as a clearinghouse to help employers and employees apply for benefits in the nearly $2 trillion stimulus package moving through Congress.
Justice later said he is confident West Virginia’s share of the coronavirus aid package will help bail out what undoubtedly will be severe revenue shortfalls for March.
“March was going to put us back over the top. March was trending really well,” Justice said of state revenue collection, which has been lagging behind estimates for the first eight months of the 2019-20 budget year.
“Now we’ve got cannonballs and major holes blown into our budget,” he said. “With the federal government stepping in at the level I think they’re going to be stepping in, I think we’ll be fine.”
Also during Thursday’s daily coronavirus briefing:
Dr. Clay Marsh, vice president and executive dean of West Virginia University Health Sciences, who was named state COVID-19 czar by Justice on Thursday, cited some encouraging news by noting that positive tests for coronavirus have stabilized at a rate of about 5 percent of total tests.
“That is a very good sign we’re doing the right things as a state, and our citizens are staying home,” Marsh said.
He said it’s too early to know for sure if the steps taken have flattened the potentially exponential curve of coronavirus cases, but said, “We’ve bought ourselves some time to do the work and preparation.”
Justice said it’s too early to consider postponing the May 12 primary election in response to the coronavirus.
He said he first wants to pursue options, including statewide absentee voting, before considering the idea of delaying the election.
“We’re going to have a free and fair election,” the governor said, “and I hope we’re going to have it on time.”
To date, 10 states have postponed primary elections originally scheduled between March 17 and May 19.