Maine unemployment surges; nursing home has 13 virus cases

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — The number of Mainers filing for unemployment continues to grow as businesses furlough workers during the coronavirus pandemic.

There were approximately 30,900 unemployment claims in the week ending April 4, setting a new weekly high for the third week in a row, the Maine Department of Labor said Thursday. Last week’s total compares with about 800 claims in the same period last year.

Commissioner Laura Fortman said her staff is trying to keep pace with the sudden increase.

“The over 76,000 initial claims filed over the past three weeks are a significant increase from 2019, when there were approximately 35,000 initial claims filed over the course of the entire year,” she said.

Last week, more than $10 million in benefits was distributed to laid off workers in Maine.

In other virus-related developments in the state:

NURSING HOMES

Ten residents and three staff members have tested positive for the new coronavirus at the Tall Pines Retirement and Healthcare Community in Belfast, the Maine Center for Disease Control said.

The state has shipped personal protective equipment to the long-term care facility, said Dr. Nirav Shah, Maine CDC director.

All told, 43 of the 560 positive tests for the coronavirus in Maine involve people in congregant living settings, which include nursing homes, group homes, long-term care facilities and shelters, he said.

Another two people died over 24 hours, bringing the number of deaths in Maine to 16, Shah said.

For most people, the 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, or death. ___

SOCIAL DISTANCING

Cellphone data and figures from the Maine Department of Transportation show Mainers are doing a good job of practicing social distancing, Shah said.

Traffic on I-95 in Kittery, near the New Hampshire border, is down 61%, while traffic on I-295 in Portland is down 62%, and travel on rural roads is down 30% to 40%, Shah told reporters.

He thanked Mainers for abiding by the governor’s shelter-at-home order.

“Right now staying inside and introducing physical distance is the best vaccine that we’ve got,” he said.

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