FILE - Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam

(The Center Square) – Unemployment filings in Virginia have increased by about 10,000 this week, Gov. Ralph Northam said at a Thursday afternoon news conference.

The filing uptick is driven by the economic fallout of the COVID-19 outbreak and likely will continue to increase. It has nearly doubled every day for the past three days, Northam's office said.

Many businesses, such as restaurants, bars and gyms, have shut down temporarily or have significantly reduced services in the past week. Although some establishments did this voluntarily, many others have done so because Northam imposed a 10-person limit on gatherings in these establishments.

"The Virginia Employment Commission has seen an unprecedented number of unemployment claims," Alena Yarmosky, the press secretary for Northam, told The Center Square in an email. "The numbers of claims have almost doubled everyday the last three days. Monday we had 2,157 claims, Tuesday 4,186 and Wednesday 8,197. Claims are now taken online and through the call center. Last week, the average was around 400 claims a day."

Filing numbers likely will continue to increase, William Walton, the unemployment insurance director for the Virginia Employment Commission, told The Center Square in a phone interview.

“We know numbers are increasing significantly,” said Walton, who added future unemployment numbers will depend on how the spread of the virus progresses, but he expects these numbers will continue to trend upward for the time being.

The Virginia Employment Commission, he said, is focused on processing claims quickly and is ready to handle the developing situation.

To speed up the process and help residents sooner, Northam has waived the usual one-week waiting period to qualify for unemployment benefits. He also expanded unemployment benefits to include people who still are employed but will be out of work temporarily because of the economic impacts related to the coronavirus.

To prevent additional economic damage, Stephen Haner, a senior fellow at the free-market Thomas Jefferson Institute, told The Center Square in an email that the commonwealth should revisit regulations. He said the state should consider suspending certain regulations if it would help keep the economy going.

“Most companies have been very sensitive to the problems of their employees, in many cases extending the amount of paid leave and certainly allowing work flexibility, but the reality is that cannot continue forever,” Haner said.

Haner also said individual action, such as continuing to purchase take-out food or buy products online, can help maintain economic activity.

The increase in unemployment claims has been a national problem. The U.S. Department of Labor reported 281,000 new claims last week. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin warned that unemployment could reach 20 percent, according to Bloomberg News, but later walked back that comment and said the government would not let the problem get that bad.

Staff Reporter

Tyler Arnold reports on Virginia and Tennessee for The Center Square. He previously worked for the Cause of Action Institute and has been published in Business Insider, USA TODAY College, National Review Online and the Washington Free Beacon.