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 in New York, which is at the heart of the crisis.
California had more than 3,200 confirmed cases and 68 deaths at midday, 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’re 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 are positive for COVID-19.
Deaths in the nation’s most populous 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.”