Ohio tops 1M unemployment claims over 6 weeks amid virus


By Andrew Welsh-Huggins - Associated Press



COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — More than 1 million people filed unemployment claims in the past six weeks as Ohio’s stay-at-home order depressed the economy and led to widespread layoffs, the state reported Thursday.

For the week ending April 25, 92,920 people filed jobless claims, according to the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. That’s down from the 109,369 claims filed the previous week.

The numbers announced Thursday pushed total claims during the pandemic to 1,057,486, or about 340,000 more than the total number of claims over the past two years. The state says it has now distributed more than $1.45 billion in unemployment checks to more than 481,000 claimants.

State officials say more than 1,600 workers are taking calls at Ohio’s seven-day-a-week call center.

“Each claim is important to us, and we recognize the hardship that the COVID-19 pandemic has placed on many Ohio families,” the agency said in a statement.

Phillip Skunza of Columbus lost his job as a waiter and bartender in mid-March when Republican Gov. Mike DeWine shuttered all restaurants and bars. Skunza made too little to be eligible for traditional unemployment insurance, and has managed so far on his $1,200 federal stimulus check.

Under the recently passed federal Pandemic Unemployment Act, the 52-year-old Skunza is now eligible for a portion of his earnings — which were less than $300 a week — plus a weekly payment of $600. He’s going to need the help soon, he said, with rent covered only through June.

Registration for the program, which is a mix of state and federal dollars, opened last week, with more than 139,00 Ohio registrants to date.

“I’ve got my hopes up that this will help me out,” he said Thursday. “I’m not looking for a huge windfall.”

Ohio begins its slow reopening Friday with many health care offices, followed by construction companies, distributors, manufacturers and offices on Monday, and retail businesses on May 12. Bars, restaurants and movie theaters remain closed, and sporting events and concerts are still prohibited.

Nationally, more than 3.8 million laid-off workers applied for unemployment benefits last week. Roughly 30.3 million people have now filed for jobless aid in the six weeks since the coronavirus outbreak began, forcing millions of employers to close their doors.

In other coronavirus-related developments in Ohio:

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CASES

The state has 975 presumptive or confirmed virus-related deaths, and more than 18,000 cases, including more than 3,500 hospitalizations, the Ohio Health Department reported Thursday.

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in a couple of weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems are at higher risk of more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.

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NURSING HOMES

Outbreaks in nursing homes across Ohio have killed at least 276 residents during the past two weeks. That represents nearly 30% of all the virus-related deaths in Ohio since the first one was reported in mid-March.

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PRISONS

Two prison employees and 27 Ohio prison inmates have died from COVID-19, according to the Department of Rehabilitation and Correction.

A total of 3,890 inmates have tested positive, but the prisons agency has only conducted universal testing at three facilities to date, leaving actual positive cases up in the air.

Correctional officers are being pushed to the brink, working multiple stretches of 16-hour shifts with many colleagues out sick and getting by with the bare minimum of personal protective equipment, especially masks, said Brian Miller, a guard at hard-hit Marion Correctional Institution who is out recovering from COVID-19.

“Being a corrections officer is a dangerous job on a good day — right now it’s hell,” said Miller, a 20-year veteran. He said officers are earning only an extra $1.85 an hour in hazard pay because of budget constraints.

The prisons agency has two medical units in Columbus, including one at the Ohio State medical center, and guards there are overwhelmed as their numbers shrink even as the ranks of sick inmates needing treatment soar, said Michael Rider, a guard at the Ohio State facility and the Franklin Medical Center.

Prisons director Annette Chambers-Smith said the system started planning for a pandemic after the H1N1 outbreak in 2009 when she was prisons health director. Once the coronavirus hit, the system prohibited prison visitors early on, stopped movement between prisons, took measures to produce and acquire personal protective equipment, and stepped up sanitation measures, among many efforts.

“There literally is no part of the prison system that hasn’t been touched with what we’re trying to do about the pandemic,” Chambers-Smith said.

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REOPENING

The grounds surrounding the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library and Museums in Fremont will reopen on Friday. While the 25-acre grounds will be open to visitors, the museum and Hayes home will remain closed.

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Associated Press writer John Seewer in Toledo contributed to this report.

By Andrew Welsh-Huggins

Associated Press