More than 1m Californians have filed for unemployment amid coronavirus crisis

Governor cites jump in claims since 13 March, marking an unprecedented surge

More than a million Californians have filed for unemployment this month due to the coronavirus crisis, the state’s governor announced.

“We just passed the 1 million mark for the number of claims since March 13,” the Gavin Newsom said at a press conference on Wednesday about the unemployment claims.

The jump in new unemployment claims is unprecedented. On a typical day, the California department of unemployment sees 2,000 new claims. Last week, on Wednesday, 80,000 new claims were filed in a single day.

Unemployment departments, which are run by each state, are being overwhelmed with a surge in new claims since the nation’s businesses began closing their doors, sending home or laying off legions of workers across industries.

At a Tuesday press conference, Newsom urged patience as unemployed workers filed claims. California’s unemployment department says people can typically receive unemployment benefits – a portion of typical income – within a couple of weeks.

But information about why someone left work, and whether it was due to the coronavirus, must be verified with employers and doctors. With businesses shut, and doctors overwhelmed, that process could be delayed significantly.

A $2tn US stimulus package headed toward the finish line could provide additional assistance, adding $600 a week to benefits across the board. And it would cover workers considered independent contract workers, like ride-share drivers, who aren’t covered by traditional unemployment.

Newsom last week announced an order that asks California residents to stay home unless absolutely necessary, amid growing rates of corona infections. The order says broadly that people should remain at home unless it is absolutely necessary to venture out for supplies or food.

Essential businesses, including grocery stores and big-box stores like Target, have been allowed to operate, while all businesses considered non-essential were required to close. The rules have been confusing for workers in some industries; while construction workers are allowed to carry on with residential projects, those working on commercial projects are off the clock.

Last week, Newsom signed an executive order that asked cities and counties to enact eviction bans to keep people from getting displaced. But with the order set to expire in April, housing advocates have been left to wonder how rent will be paid after that. Newsom said he and a team were reviewing the legality of potential solutions.

Newsom said on Tuesday he had spoken with CEOs from 200 financial institutions who committed to a 90-day waiver on mortgages and foreclosures. The governor said Bank of America was the only large financial institution that didn’t agree to a 90-day waiver. A spokesman said Bank of America will instead offer relief on a case-by-case basis until the crisis is over and has also agreed to pause foreclosures, evictions and repossessions.

There have been nearly 3,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus in California, and more than 60 people have died. The governor also said an investigation was under way to determine the cause of death of a young person in Los Angeles, who is believed to be the first minor killed by the coronavirus. Newsom urged caution about hastening to make assumptions about the case.

The death “underscores the enormity of the challenge in front of us and how it can impact anybody”, Newsom said. Half of all positive cases in California fell in the 18-to-49 age range, Newsom said in a news conference on Tuesday evening. “Young people can and will be impacted by this virus.”

On Wednesday, Newsom added that 37 confirmed coronavirus cases were in children under the age of 18.

With an eye to New York, the nation’s new coronavirus center and home to about 60% of the US cases, California leaders are scrambling to prepare for a sudden surge on hospitals that could overwhelm healthcare workers and available bed space.

The state needed 50,000 hospital beds to prepare for a coming demand, Newsom said on Tuesday, a projection he has adjusted upwards over the past week. Two additional hospitals, eight field hospitals and a navy hospital ship to be docked in Los Angeles will add to the state’s options.

Newsom said the state had tested 66,800 people, a huge jump from previous days. The governor attributed the huge jump to tests conducted by private labs including Quest Diagnostics whose tests had not previously been reflected in the total. Kaiser Permanente alone is now performing 12,000 tests a day, but there are still delays in getting the results back.

Newsom implored state residents to keep a safe distance from those who do not live in the same house and to adhere, completely, to the stay-at-home orders to prevent further spread of the virus.

“Halfway is no way,” said Newsom.

Contributor

Mario Koran in San Francisco

The GuardianTramp

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