Connecticut reports 'unprecedented' unemployment claims
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — State workers in Connecticut are processing 20 times the number of unemployment claims they normally do, a deluge caused by the coronavirus, officials said Wednesday.
Staff members have been shifted from other jobs to help the unemployment claims operation, Labor Commissioner Kurt Westby said. Also, about a dozen retirees and other employees who have handled the state's unemployment claims in the past have been asked to return.
“I've never seen numbers like this. This is unprecedented,” Westby said. “In the last recession, we had high numbers, but those numbers gradually went up. This happened in a week."
The agency received more than 72,000 unemployment claims in just one week, from March 13 to 20, officials said. In a more typical week there are 3,000 to 3,500 claims.
The surge in filings is leading to longer-than-usual waits for payments.
Before the virus outbreak, claims processing took about one to three business days. It's now taking about three weeks. State officials are urging applicants to have their payments sent via direct deposit to their bank accounts. If not, the funds will be put on a debit card, which could take an additional several days to process.
The wave of claims comes as the number of positive cases of the coronavirus continues to climb in Connecticut, from more than 600 on Tuesday to 875 on Wednesday, with 19 deaths. For most people, the new 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.
SECOND PRISON WORKER INFECTED
The Department of Correction announced Wednesday that a “custody staff employee” at Corrigan-Radgowski Correctional Center in Uncasville has tested positive for the coronavirus.
The unidentified worker last entered the facility on March 21. To date, no other worker at the prison has tested positive. Earlier this week, DOC reported its first staff member, an employee at Garner Correctional Institution in Newtown, had tested positive.
DMV WORKERS INFECTED
Labor union leaders are criticizing Commissioner Sibongile Magubane of the state Department of Motor Vehicles for ordering employees to continue to work at the agency’s headquarters in Wethersfield after workers there tested positive for the coronavirus.
John DiSette, president of Administrative and Residual Employees Union, said Magubane ordered all 400 employees of the building to report to work Tuesday morning, despite multiple confirmed cases of the new virus. The Wethersfield office has been closed to the public for more than a week.
After the union complained to the governor’s office, employees were sent home around noon Tuesday, DiSette said. But then Magubane told 50 employees they needed to return to work Wednesday while others could work from home, he said.
DiSette has called for Magubane to resign and for the building to be closed Thursday through Sunday to quell the virus. He said seven workers at the Wethersfield office have tested positive.
Magubane and the DMV issued a statement Wednesday evening that did not directly address all of DiSette's comments. It said the 50 employees continuing to work at the Wethersfield office are providing critical services.
“Because of the nature of the COVID-19 public health crisis, and as a component of our COVID-19 contingency plan, we have adapted in response to the known health and safety risks to employees," Magubane said in the statement. “The intent is to maximize health and safety protections while maintaining DMV operations in support of critical functions that support essential services.”
TROOPERS TEST POSITIVE
Connecticut State Police said Wednesday that three troopers and a trooper recruit have tested positive for COVID-19.
Officials said a trooper who works out of Bridgeport, another who works out of Litchfield, one at the training academy in Meriden and a trooper trainee are all doing well and expected to make full recoveries.
After state officials received numerous online requests from anxious anglers, Gov. Ned Lamont has opened fishing season early this year.
Mike Beauchene, supervising fisheries biologist, said an early opening day will also help “flatten the curve” of people who normally come out in large numbers on opening day each year. Fishing season was originally set for April 11.
Lamont's order makes many inland lakes, ponds, rivers and streams across the state open to fishing, as part of an effort to allow people to enjoy the outdoors while being the recommended six feet apart. However, fishing laws and regulations, including requirements for a license - which can be obtained online - remain in effect.
Also, the order does not change regulations for trout management areas that are currently open for catch-and-release fishing only.
The state is allowing golf courses to remain open during the COVID-19 pandemic, with some modifications.
Clubhouses won't be open. Golfers are encouraged to walk the courses and not ride together in carts. They also are being asked to use their own equipment, pay online, stay 6 feet from other golfers and staff, and refrain from touching the flag sticks.
Officials say ball washers, rakes, benches, water coolers, used tee baskets and other commonly handled items should also be removed from golf courses.
The University of Connecticut and the Connecticut State University systems plan to refund money to students that would have been used for room and board had they not been sent home because of the outbreak.
UConn's Board of Trustees said students can expect refunds of between $1,600 and $3,200, depending on their housing situation. The school expects to return about $30 million to students.
The CSU system, which includes Central, Southern, Eastern and Western Connecticut State universities, said it will reach out to individual students to credit their accounts from the time they left their dorms to the end of the semester.
Attorney General William Tong has joined other attorneys general in urging online retailers to monitor price-gouging by sellers on their platforms.
The Democrat and 33 others sent letters to Amazon, Facebook, eBay, Walmart and Craigslist, expressing concern that unethical sellers are using the outbreak as an opportunity to profit.
Tong also joined fellow attorneys general on Wednesday in urging Amazon and Whole Foods to increase paid sick and family leave provided to their employees by voluntarily complying with the standards set in the new Families First Act.
COURT EMPLOYEE INFECTED
State judicial officials said Wednesday that an employee in the Danbury Superior Court clerk's office has tested positive for COVID-19, prompting the indefinite closure of the courthouse. Court cases in Danbury will be transferred to Waterbury Superior Court effective Thursday, said Judge Patrick Carroll III, the chief court administrator.
Associated Press Writers Dave Collins and Pat Eaton Robb contributed to this report.