West Virginia unemployment hits 15% as virus hammers economy


By Anthony Izaguirre - Associated Press



CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — West Virginia’s unemployment rate rose to 15% last month as the coronavirus pandemic continues to level the state’s economy, according to figures released Tuesday.

Officials said the unemployment rate jumped 9 percentage points in April as the number of jobless West Virginians boomed amid the widespread virus closures.

Republican Gov. Jim Justice, along with governors across the country, is pushing forward with a plan to lift virus restrictions on businesses in a desperate bid to restart the economy. On Thursday, he will allow the reopening of restaurants, tanning salons, malls, big box stores, all-terrain vehicle rentals, campgrounds, the Hatfield-McCoy trails and whitewater rafting and zipline businesses.

State officials have said they have already processed more than 164,000 unemployment claims since mid-March. Nationwide, around 36 million laid-off workers have filed for jobless aid since the outbreak began.

The governor is also allowing cabins, lodges, bars at half-capacity, museums and zoos to reopen on May 26. On May 30, spas and video lottery retailers can resume operations. Casinos can reopen June 5.

Justice’s plan to lift restrictions hinges on the state’s positive test rate staying under 3% for three days, loosening a previous goal of having the number of new cases drop for two weeks. Clay Marsh, a West Virginia University official leading the state’s virus response, has said the state has enough downward trending indicators to ease restrictions.

Statewide, at least 68 people have died from the virus and around 1,500 have tested positive, according to health officials.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the highly contagious virus can cause severe symptoms and be fatal. The vast majority of people recover.

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

By Anthony Izaguirre

Associated Press