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.
California’s cases grew by more than 800 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 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.
“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:
— A critically ill patient who was the nation’s first known case of community-acquired coronavirus is now recovering at home, doctors at the University of California, Davis said. The patient was treated with the antiviral drug remdesivir, which is one of two drugs being tested at the school for treatment of severe coronavirus cases.
“Although some patients with severe infection have received remdesivir, we do not have solid data to indicate it can improve clinical outcomes for everyone,” said Allison Brashear, dean of the UC Davis School of Medicine.
— Two men who traveled on a coronavirus-stricken cruise ship stalled for days off the California coast died from the virus, federal officials said. The men, both in their early 60s, were on the Grand Princess sailing from San Francisco to Hawaii on Feb. 21. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also confirmed that fewer than half the ship’s passengers were tested for the virus despite assurances everyone would be tested.
— 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.
— For the second time in a week the Los Angeles County sheriff tried to close gun shops. 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.
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.