Virus Outbreak North Carolina

A woman picks up food at Shorty's Famous Hot Dogs in downtown Wake Forest, N.C., on Tuesday, March 17, 2020. Gov. Roy Cooper issued an executive order earlier in the day instructing all restaurants in the state to close their dining rooms as of 5 p.m. to help halt the spread of the coronavirus.

(The Center Square) – Unemployment claims have increased fivefold since Gov. Roy Cooper ordered certain businesses closed to contain the spread of COVID-19.

The filing uptick happened Tuesday after Cooper signed an executive order closing dine-in restaurants and bars. He coupled the directive with looser restrictions on the unemployment claim process.

The North Carolina Division of Employment Security received nearly 18,000 claims between noon Tuesday and 10 a.m. Thursday. The number is five times the average amount the agency received before the outbreak, which has been about 3,000 a week.

Those numbers are expected to continue to rise, agency spokesman Larry Parker said.

“We know that number is constantly increasing, as people can file claims online 24/7,” he said.

Cooper’s executive order waived the requirement for in-person applications. It also lifted the one-week waiting period to apply and a job-seeking mandate. It grants workers who had their hours cut or were laid off because of COVID-19 unemployment benefits.

The online form allows applicants to select COVID-19 as a reason for their job loss.

Cooper said at a news conference Tuesday that many small business owners were the ones who reached out to him pressing for unemployment benefits for their workers. Many of them want to rehire laid off workers after the outbreak has ended, Cooper said.

Parker said the Division of Employment Security has received complaints about system issues and long wait times caused by high call volumes and the influx of applications.

Last week, the average traffic on the online claims system was 6,000 people per day. On Tuesday, 39,395 people accessed the system. That number increased to 68,572 on Wednesday, Parker said.

The office updated its servers Wednesday and is looking to hire 50 analysts to help process the claims.

The increase in unemployment claims has been a national problem. The U.S. Department of Labor reported 281,000 new claims last week.

As of Friday morning, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported 137 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by a novel coronavirus. The disease has caused at least 200 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.