Grim virus-related employment stats as state mulls openings

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The number of people filing unemployment insurance claims in Louisiana last week neared 340,000, according to state labor department figures released Thursday, the latest sign of how the fight against the spread of the new coronavirus has walloped the state economy.

Nearly 92,000 people filed initial unemployment claims last week, compared to fewer than 1,600 for the comparable week in 2019, the Louisiana Workforce Commission figures showed. People filing for continuing claims totaled 246,296. For the comparable week last year, that figure was 13,218.

At an online Thursday morning meeting of a new legislative recovery task force, economist Loren Scott said state unemployment could eventually hit 22%.

“The month of April is going to sting,” Scott told the panel, which has a goal of getting its first set of short-term recommendations to lawmakers by May 7.

Scott said Louisiana will be helped by any national economic recovery. But the state has the extra problem of low oil prices caused not only by the pandemic but also by the glut of oil stemming from the feud between oil producing countries Russia and Saudi Arabia. He said the state also is seeing a hit to the construction industry because plans for several major LNG projects and other facilities have been delayed.

Louisiana’s emergency stay-at-home orders and bans on gatherings of more than 10 people are set to expire April 30. Gov. John Bel Edwards is expected to announce as early as Monday how the state might begin to re-open the economy if certain benchmarks in White House guidance are met. Those involve the growth in cases, hospitalizations and the number of people reported with certain symptoms within a 14-day period.

“We’re about halfway through the 14 days and the current trajectory looks promising,” the Democratic governor said Tuesday.

Louisiana’s death toll from the virus continues to rise, reaching 1,540 on Thursday, an increase of 67 from the day before, according to figures released by the state health department. The number of known coronavirus infections, based on testing by the state health department and commercial labs, has topped 25,700.

However, the number hospitalized in the state dropped to 1,727 Wednesday. It has consistently been under 1,800 in recent days after having peaked at 2,134 earlier this month. And the number of patients needing ventilators, 287 on Wednesday, fell to 274 Thursday. It had peaked at 571 in early April.

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Deslatte reported from Baton Rouge, La.

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Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.

KEVIN McGILL and MELINDA DESLATTE Associated Press

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