Jobless claims soar in Oregon from COVID-19 layoffs

By ANDREW SELSKY

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — Jobless claims are soaring in Oregon as the state nears the end of its first week under Gov. Kate Brown’s stay-at-home order due to the coronavirus outbreak, the Oregon Department of Employment said Thursday.

Since March 15, the state has received 76,500 initial unemployment claims. That’s a sharp increase from the 4,900 claims the week of March 8, before the economic devastation of the new coronavirus took hold, the department said.

Hospitality and leisure jobs made up about half the 22,800 claims processed in the last week, signifying the impact of the executive order that banned dine-in service at restaurants and bars and banned non-essential travel. Schools are also closed until April 28.

And as health-care workers struggle to find sufficient masks to protect themselves, a medical facility in Salem, Oregon, announced online that it would hand out kits on Thursday for people to make masks and return them assembled.

The response was enormous.

So many cars lined up to receive the kits at a parking lot of a closed Kmart store that it caused a traffic jam. Police warned motorists of the snarled traffic.

“How do I get in?” one woman asked a volunteer through her rolled-down window before she was told all the masks had been pledged to motorists who arrived earlier. One man came on foot, after having abandoned his car in the traffic jam, and was told the same thing.

Salem Health Hospitals & Clinics cancelled its handouts for Friday because supplies were exhausted.

“We were overwhelmed by the response from the community in this time of need. Thank you so very much for your willingness to help health care workers, neighbors and friends,” the facility said on its website.

A volunteer said hundreds of kits were handed out, enough to make more than 8,000 masks. It takes a half-hour to make each one at first, then the process speeds up as the maker gets familiar with the process. Dropoffs of completed masks are scheduled to start on Monday.

The impact of COVID-19 was also being felt by employers and their workers. Deschutes Brewery, an iconic craft brewery, also said Wednesday that it will lay off 300 employees and close its pubs and tasting rooms. Other uniquely Oregon businesses, such as McMenamin’s and Powell’s Books, have laid off hundreds of workers as well.

Oregon’s jobless rate was at a historic low last month of just 3.3%, but recent warnings have suggested unemployment could rise as high as 20% during the outbreak.

Brown said earlier this week that she is ‘gravely concerned’ about Oregon’s ability to deliver basic services over the next six months to a year because of the economic fallout from statewide closures, massive lay-offs by affected businesses and stay-at-home orders aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

The state also on Wednesday delayed the personal tax filing deadline until July 15, meaning Oregon will have less money coming in as it scrambles to address the economic crisis.

Also Thursday, the city of Hood River closed its motels, hotels, short-term vacation rentals, hosted home shares, bed and breakfasts, RV parks and campgrounds until April 14. The city said it took the action because despite the governor’s stay-at-home order issued Monday, people are still traveling to the Columbia River Gorge in large numbers and not following social distancing requirements of maintaining at least six feet of space between people.

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Selsky reported from Salem, Oregon.

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