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New unemployment claims slowing in Utah as state reopens

June 4, 2020 GMT
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In this Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, photo, Republican Senate President Stuart Adams speaks during a news conference at the Utah State Capitol, in Salt Lake City. Income tax money can only be used for education in Utah, but lawmakers are now introducing a complex proposal to change that in hopes of shoring up the state's shrinking sales-tax base. The plan would allow income tax money to be used for things like the Children's Health Insurance Program, which provides coverage to children whose families are low income but earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, said Adams. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)
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In this Monday, Feb. 24, 2020, photo, Republican Senate President Stuart Adams speaks during a news conference at the Utah State Capitol, in Salt Lake City. Income tax money can only be used for education in Utah, but lawmakers are now introducing a complex proposal to change that in hopes of shoring up the state's shrinking sales-tax base. The plan would allow income tax money to be used for things like the Children's Health Insurance Program, which provides coverage to children whose families are low income but earn too much to qualify for Medicaid, said Adams. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The number of people requesting unemployment assistance in Utah last week dropped below 5,000 for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic took hold in the United States. But the figure remained at a rate far higher than normal, according to figures released Thursday.

Utah officials said 4,996 people applied for unemployment in the week ending May 30, a 8% drop from the previous week and the eighth consecutive week that claims have decreased since a peak of 33,000 in the week ending April 4.

The unemployment figure dropped below the previous record of 5,300 that stood before the pandemic but had been eclipsed each of the previous 10 weeks.

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The weekly figure, however, was 444% higher than the same time last year.

The consistent decline in claims is encouraging after Utah has gradually allowed many businesses to reopen since May 1, said Kevin Burt, Unemployment Insurance Division director for the Utah Department of Workforce Services, in a statement. He warned that unemployment aid is temporary and that workers must go back to work if given the opportunity unless they are a high risk for coronavirus.

Mirroring the rest of the world, the COVID-19 pandemic forced countless businesses to shut down or lay off workers. Since March 14, Utah has received nearly 170,000 claims for unemployment. That represents 11.5% of the total workforce of Utah that is eligible for the unemployment insurance program.

The state has paid out nearly $199 million in state funds while doling out an additional $333 million in federal stimulus funds, state figures show.

In other developments:

— The president of the Utah Senate has tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies, typically an indication a patient was infected with the coronavirus and recovered.

Republican Sen. Stuart Adams of Layton said Thursday that he never experienced any symptoms of the illness, so he had not previously been tested for it. He said in a statement he was tired after the legislative session ended in March, but believed it was because of the rigors of the late nights as lawmakers finish their work for the year.

“I’m grateful I’ve been diligent at social distancing and wearing a face mask because I do not know if or when I had COVID-19,” he said in a statement. “I’m a strong advocate for wearing a mask to help slow the spread of this virus. Wearing a face-covering may prevent infecting someone else unintentionally and help protect the medically frail.”

Adams’ antibody test was administered by the University of Utah Health through the ARUP Laboratories. Though the test is not considered 100% accurate, he is exploring whether he is eligible to donate plasma and encouraged others to do the same.

One other Utah lawmaker, Democratic Sen. Luz Escamilla, has tested positive for the virus. She became ill after the session ended and recovered after suffering from flu-like symptoms. Most people who catch the virus recover, but it can be fatal and has killed nearly 120 people in Utah so far.

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