RICHMOND, Va. -- Over the past three weeks, more than 306,000 people have applied for unemployment benefits in Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam said during a Friday news briefing on the COVID-19 pandemic.
"That's more than the same weeks for 2018, 2019 and 2020 combined," Northam said. "Last week alone, the Virginia Employment Commission has issued more than 191,000 payments totaling more than $57 million."
Northam said the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program will begin next week, which means an extra $600 a week for those who have filed for unemployment.
Additionally, tens of thousands of self-employed people or gig workers will now qualify for benefits.
"It's important to note, you still have to fill out the state unemployment application to receive that assistance," Northam explained. "We have some 75,000 Virginia workers who were previously denied unemployment assistance, many of whom held the types of jobs that do qualify under this federal program. The VEC will be reaching out to these workers and will update its application website in the next week so that it can collect additional information to process claims."
Northam also said the state is working to upgrade their capacity to handle the influx of new claims.
"The VEC is hiring more staff, hiring a private call center and upgrading the claims website," Northam said. "We know that people are dependent on this financial support and we are committed to making sure every claim is processed."
Nearly 150,000 Virginians filed unemployment claims in the last week, which marks the third straight week of record-setting claims.
Before the coronavirus shuttered so many businesses, weekly jobless claims in Virginia averaged around 2,600.
Northam also addressed recent reports social distancing has been working and the curve is starting to flatten. That, Northam said is is leading to people asking him about easing restrictions.
"We're in that period right now where, where we see hope we see promise, but this is not the time to back off from our guidelines," Northam said. "This is no time to let our guard down. We need to continue to stay home and to stay safe."
The state health department reported the death toll from the coronavirus has exceeded 120 in Virginia and the number of positive tests for the virus exceeds 4,500.
Most patients with COVID-19 have mild to moderate symptoms. However, in a small proportion of patients, COVID-19 can lead to more severe illness, including death, particularly among those who are older or those who have chronic medical conditions.
COVID-19 spreads primarily through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.
Symptoms include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Symptoms appear within 14 days of being exposed to an infectious person.
Virginia health officials urged the following precautions:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer only if soap and water are not available.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces.Stay home when you are sick.
- Avoid contact with sick people.Avoid non-essential travel.