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Tennessee unemployment claims still high due to coronavirus

Apr 30, 2020

By ADRIAN SAINZ and KIMBERLEE KRUESI NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — The number of Tennessee residents who filed new unemployment claims last week topped 43,700, bringing the total number of requests for benefits to more than 435,000 since businesses began closing in response to the new coronavirus outbreak. The Tennessee Department of Labor & Workforce Development on Thursday reported new jobless claims for the week ending April 25. The highest number of new claims, nearly 15,000, was reported in counties surrounding Davidson County, which includes Nashville, the department said in a news release. The amount of Tennessee residents seeking unemployment benefits has spiked since cities, counties and the state issued orders closing non-essential businesses in March. Only about 2,700 people in Tennessee filed for unemployment benefits for the week ending March 14, before the mass response to the virus outbreak. Lauren Bellflower, of Nashville, was laid off from her job as a real estate marketing executive in late January and was undergoing interviews for a new position when the virus response began. Job opportunities disappeared and she filed for unemployment benefits in late March. Bellflower, 30, has yet to receive payment, saying she is “held up in the employer verification stage.” “I'm kind of at a loss for what to do,” she said. “I don't really want to call because the system's overloaded and sitting on hold for three hours doesn't appeal to me.” So far, Bellflower has paid bills using savings, and with help from family and the $1,200 stimulus check from the federal government's coronavirus relief act. “But next month is going to be tight,” she said. Nationally, more than 3.8 million laid-off workers applied for unemployment benefits last week as the U.S. economy slid further into a crisis that is becoming the most devastating since the 1930s. Roughly 30.3 million people in the U.S. have now filed for jobless aid in the six weeks since the coronavirus outbreak began. The latest unemployment numbers arrive as Gov. Bill Lee has pushed to reopen most of the state to help boost the state’s faltering economy. Restaurants in most counties resumed dine-in service Monday and retail stores were permitted in-store customers Wednesday. Gyms are set to reopen Friday. Lee said salons and barbershops will be able to open next Wednesday in 89 of Tennessee’s 95 counties. The state will provide guidance on masks and other precautions for those businesses. However, for employees uneasy about returning to work, state officials are warning concerns over COVID-19 aren’t necessarily a good enough reason to continue collecting unemployment benefits. “If you’re offered a job and your employer goes back to work you then you stand the chance of losing those benefits if you don’t have a clear reason not to go back,” Labor & Workforce Development Commissioner Jeff McCord said. “If someone is immune compromised, those situations may be a little different and that’s just a case by case basis.” Nashville officials announced Thursday that the city’s stay-at-home order will stay in place until at least May 8, saying the virus’ transmission rate and 14-day trend in new cases aren’t yet where they need to be to start reopening the economy. “Today’s public health decisions will lead to earlier and more certain restart dates for our upcoming school year, for major fall and winter professional sports, our global tourism industry, and other events that have a significant impact on Nashville’s economy,” Mayor John Cooper said Thursday. However, in Memphis, officials said restaurants and retail stores can resume welcoming customers starting Monday. Employees will have to wear face masks and the businesses will be limited to using 50% of building capacity. Libraries and places of worship also will be allowed to open their doors, under social distancing guidelines. Tennessee’s Department of Health has reported 10,366 cases of COVID-19 and 195 deaths in the state. Tennessee's health department said it is offering drive-thru testing for the new coronavirus in 15 counties for the third straight weekend. Lee also has said the state will start testing all residents and staff at nursing homes and assisted living facilities in coming weeks. There are more than 700 long-term care facilities in the state with more than 700,000 residents, the governor said. Also, German automaker Volkswagen is reassessing plans to resume production at its Chattanooga plant Sunday. A new start date has not been set. For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. For some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and be life-threatening. ___ Sainz reported from Memphis, Tennessee. Jonathan Mattise contributed from Nashville.

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