LOS ANGELES — California hired retired state workers and transferred other employees to help process an avalanche of over 1 million unemployment claims amid a surge of job losses from the coronavirus pandemic, the state said Thursday.
The announcement came as Los Angeles saw a 50% jump in newly confirmed coronavirus cases, which could top 1 million within weeks, a public health official said.
While the state had some of the first cases of the virus in the nation from travelers coming from the epicenter of the outbreak in Wuhan, China, it has managed to keep its numbers below those of New York, which is at the heart of the crisis.
California's cases grew by more than 800 on Thursday to 3,800 people infected, and deaths increased by 16 to 81 total, according to numbers kept by Johns Hopkins University. By comparison, New York had more than 37,000 cases and 385 deaths.
About a third of the nation’s record-level of unemployment claims are in California, where thousands of businesses have been forced to shut down following Gov. Gavin Newsom’s order for people to stay at home unless their jobs are deemed essential or they are buying food, medicine, visiting a doctor or exercising.
The Employment Development Department said it was working around the clock to process claims and had moved staff from other departments to help handle the load.
“We know there are many Californians who are really struggling to provide for their families because of the massive economic impact,” Director Sharon Hilliard said in a news release. “EDD is employing all means necessary to get benefit payments out to those in need.”
In Los Angeles, the number of confirmed cases jumped from about 800 to over 1,200 in 24 hours, which was directly correlated to an increase in the availability of test kits, public health Director Barbara Ferrer said. About 10% of people tested in the county are positive for COVID-19.
Deaths in the nation’s most populous county jumped from 12 to 21.
If each infected person spreads the virus to two others, the number could quickly overwhelm hospitals, Ferrer said as she urged people to avoid exposure.
“We have to assume that the spread of COVID-19 is happening all across the county,” Ferrer said. “If we don’t curtail that spread, within a few weeks there could be over a 1 million people infected in LA County.”
The state is still struggling to deal with getting its large homeless population off the street to prevent the spread of the virus among the vulnerable population.
Newsom pledged thousands of hotel rooms to help, but most of the rooms sit empty. Outreach workers continue to pass out hand sanitizer and plead with homeless people not to crowd together.
As supermarkets remained one of the few retail businesses still open, a union representing more than 120,000 grocery store employees and 15,000 who work in drug stores started a petition drive for safer working conditions.
The United Food and Commercial Workers International Union locals are asking Newsom to order stores to provide workers with personal protective equipment, hand-washing breaks every 30 minutes, and help with controlling crowds.
“I don’t feel safe coming to work right now — I’m working 12-hour shifts for six days and feel exposed to this dangerous virus. I am terrified of bringing it home,” Sean Krane, who has worked at Vons for 15 years, said in a statement provided by the unions. “I shouldn’t have to choose between losing a paycheck and getting sick.”
More controversially, another business open in many counties are gun stores. For the second time in a week the Los Angeles County sheriff tried to close them Thursday.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva said the shops may no longer sell to the general public but can supply security guard companies. That may not be the final word.
There was a run on gun buying when Villanueva ordered the shops to close Tuesday, though he reversed himself after a county lawyer said the stores were essential businesses that should remain open during the coronavirus crisis.
County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who said she personally thinks gun stores are not essential, said the conflict between the sheriff and county probably needs to be resolved by a judge.
The order applies to the county's unincorporated areas and 42 cities that contract with the sheriff's department for law enforcement. The city of Los Angeles has deemed gun shops nonessential.
Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.
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