SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Unemployment claims in Utah are settling into levels that are much lower than the pandemic peak in early April but remain historically high, new figures released Thursday show.
Nearly 4,900 people requested unemployment assistance in the week ending June 13 — the fourth consecutive week the total has hovered around 5,000, state numbers show.
The previous record that stood before the COVID-19 pandemic triggered a global economic collapse was 5,300 set in 2013 during a shutdown of the U.S. government.
The new weekly tally is down from a pandemic peak of 33,000 in early April but over 400% higher than a year earlier.
Utah state officials began allowing some businesses to reopen May 1 and further loosened restrictions in the middle of last month.
Gov. Gary Herbert and other state leaders are forging ahead with plans aimed at fueling an economic recovery, but have hit pause on loosening more restrictions in most parts of the state as officials grapple with rising positive test rates and a three-week rise in coronavirus case counts.
The increase isn't because more people are getting tested, said state epidemiologist Angela Dunn. She said in an interview Thursday on KSL News Radio that the percentage of people testing positive has doubled since last month to about 8-10%.
“Unfortunately, it is a sign that COVID-19 is spreading more readily through our communities,” Dunn said.
Health officials say 147 people ware hospitalized with coronavirus — accounting for 58% of the state's intensive care unit beds.
Dunn and Herbert, a Republican, are urging people to wear face masks in public, practice social distancing and use good hand hygiene. But, Herbert has stopped short of requiring masks.
He unveiled a new iteration of an economic recovery plan Wednesday and rejected the idea the state can't reopen while keeping people safe.
Since March 14, Utah has received about 180,000 claims for unemployment. That represents about 12% of the total workforce that is eligible for the unemployment insurance program.
The state has paid nearly $250 million while doling out an additional $428 million in federal stimulus funds, state figures show.
The state unemployment rate of 5.3% through May was second lowest behind only South Dakota. New unemployment data are expected to be released Friday.
Nationally, about 1.5 million laid-off workers applied for U.S. unemployment benefits last week, a historically high number, even as the economy increasingly reopens and employers bring some people back to work.
The latest figure released Thursday marked the 11th straight weekly decline in applications since they peaked at nearly 7 million in March. The decline was much smaller, though, than in recent weeks, falling just 58,000.
The number of people receiving unemployment aid also fell slightly, reflecting the return of many to their old jobs.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.