FILE - GA Mark Butler 7-18-2019

Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler

(The Center Square) – Georgia unemployment claims have increased sharply amid the COVID-19 outbreak, according to the state’s Department of Labor.

Representatives for the department could not release specific numbers, but spokeswoman Julianna Cline said Friday the office that handles the claims have received what was once considered a weekly amount in one day.

In February, the department received 22,452 initial unemployment claims, which averages to more than 5,000 claims per week.

Commissioner of Labor Mark Butler made an emergency ruling Tuesday that requires Georgia employers to file partial claims for employees who were laid off because of the health crisis. 

Many major retail stores, restaurants, shopping malls and other businesses have announced closures or shortened operating hours, which have led to the uptick in filings.

The Department of Labor also canceled a series of job fairs scheduled around the state.

“We are partnering with the governor’s office and our federal and state authorities to make sure we are able to get the citizens of Georgia paid,” Butler said. “We are working as an agency to provide innovative solutions to meet the needs of our customers, even when information is changing every day.”

Partial claims allow employees to receive unemployment benefits payments faster, Butler said. Claims that are filed electronically can be processed within 48 hours, he said. 

The increase in unemployment filings is a far cry from the status of Georgia’s labor force before the outbreak.

Two days after health officials identified the first case of COVID-19, DOL reported having the largest employed population on record. About 5 million people were employed in January. 

The unemployment rate has been at record lows for the past eight months. February’s unemployment rate was 0.4 percent below the national level at 3.1 percent, where it has been since November.

With jobs also outpacing the labor force in Georgia, there are still over 100,000 jobs listed on the department’s website.

“Our agency specializes in not only providing unemployment support for those out of work, even if temporarily, but also giving Georgians every opportunity to find work and re-enter the workforce,” Butler said.

As of Friday afternoon, the Georgia Department of Public Health reported 420 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Georgia, including 13 deaths.

COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by a novel coronavirus. The disease has caused at least 210 deaths in the U.S. COVID-19 symptoms appear within two to 14 days after exposure and include fever, cough, runny nose and difficulty breathing.

Most people who have it develop only mild symptoms. But some people, usually the elderly and those with other medical complications, develop more severe symptoms, including pneumonia, which can be fatal.

Staff Reporter

Nyamekye Daniel has been a journalist for three years. She was the managing editor for the South Florida Media Network and a staff writer for The Miami Times. Daniel's work has also appeared in the Sun-Sentinel, Miami Herald and The New York Times.