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.
“This represents a huge jump, my friends: an increase of more than 50% in a single day of confirmed cases and an increase of more than 70% of our Angelenos who now have fallen,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said. “Even more disturbingly, we see that if this rate of increase continues (in the county), in six days we will be where New York is today.”
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.
About a third of the nation’s record-level of 3.3 million unemployment claims are in California, where thousands of businesses have been forced to close 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 governor said more than 1 million people had filed jobless claims since March 13.
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.
Deaths in the nation’s most populous county jumped from 12 to 21.
Based on a projection that each infected person spreads the virus to two others, the number could quickly overwhelm hospitals, Ferrer said as she urged people to avoid exposure.
State Struggling to Deal With Risk to Homeless Population
“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 1 million people infected in LA County.”
Ferrer said that effective measures recommended by public health officials to stay 6 feet (1.8 meters) away from others, isolate ill patients and quarantine those who have had contact in the last two weeks with the sick could prevent that dire scenario from occurring. But she also said failure to follow those guidelines could make the problem even worse.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.
Meanwhile, 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.
In other developments Thursday:
That may not be the final word.
Gun rights advocates said they would look into challenging the order. It also runs counter to a county lawyer’s opinion earlier in the week that the shops are among those considered essential under the county’s stay-at-home order that closed many businesses.
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.