JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — Initial unemployment claims in Alaska are down slightly from a historic high, but they are about 12 times what is typical for this time of year amid the economic fallout from coronavirus concerns, according to a state official and government figures Thursday.
Initial claims for the most recent reporting week totaled 12,007, said Lennon Weller, actuary for the state’s unemployment insurance system. That compares with 14,590 claims the prior week, which the state labor department said far exceeded anything in Alaska’s history.
The new numbers could mean the “biggest wave of initial filings is behind us. Certainly, things can change,” Weller said.
“Significantly elevated” levels of initial filings are likely throughout April, he said, adding it could be several weeks before there is a peak in the level of continued filings.
Gov. Mike Dunleavy last week said the labor department was adding 100 people to help process claims, which the administration said should help reduce wait times.
Asked about frustrations Alaskans have had with the unemployment process, the governor Thursday said systems in many respects have been overwhelmed due to the unprecedented scale.
“We talk about this constantly, that we have to get resources into the hands of Alaskans as soon as possible that have been impacted by decisions made to look out for the health of Alaskans,” he said.
The state has barred dine-in services at restaurants and bars and ordered the closure of gyms, theaters, bowling alleys and bingo halls in a bid to prevent the spread of the virus. Hair and nail salons also have been closed.
Major drivers of the state’s economy have been rattled, too. For example, this week’s announcement by two cruise lines that they plan sharp reductions in their sailings to Alaska is expected to be a huge hit to the state’s tourism industry and the many communities that rely upon it.
Bristol Bay Native Corp. announced it is donating $75,000 to food banks and $250,000 to communities in that southwest Alaska region.
Dunleavy has begun outlining plans for reopening parts of the economy while the state continues tracking cases and works to ramp up its testing. As of Thursday morning, the state had reported 300 total cases of COVID-19 and nine deaths so far related to the disease. One of the seven new cases announced Thursday was a child younger than 10, according to the state health department.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
The state announced Wednesday it would begin lifting in phases restrictions on health care activities but included screening and other steps that are to be taken before certain procedures are conducted. It calls for certain facilities, such as hospitals and long-term care facilities, to, regardless of symptoms, screen patients and to the extent possible begin testing admitted patients.
Alaska’s chief medical officer, Dr. Anne Zink, said this is in part “an additional attempt to rapidly expand testing, particularly to vulnerable individuals, to make sure that we are screening as broadly as possible.”
President Donald Trump gave governors a road map Thursday for recovering from the economic toll of the coronavirus. Dunleavy said the state wants to reopen sectors of the economy as quickly as possible but “not at the expense of the health of Alaskans.”
He said state officials will be monitoring data in taking actions, watching for any possible spikes in numbers or clustering of cases.
Dunleavy said there will be an Alaska-specific approach, noting many communities are remote and lack the health care infrastructure of other places.