Nearly 5K West Virginians file for jobless aid

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Almost 5,000 West Virginians filed for unemployment benefits last week amid the coronavirus pandemic shutdowns, according to federal data released Thursday.

The new applications come as nearly 39 million Americans have sought jobless aid since the outbreak began two months ago and forced businesses to shut their doors.

West Virginia’s unemployment rate has hit 15% and the state has processed more than 164,000 unemployment claims since March, officials said.

Republican Gov. Jim Justice is pushing forward with an aggressive plan to lift virus restrictions on businesses. On Thursday, he’s allowing the reopening of restaurants, tanning salons, malls, big box stores, all-terrain vehicle rentals, campgrounds, the Hatfield-McCoy trails and whitewater rafting and zipline businesses.

The governor is also letting cabins, lodges, bars at half-capacity, museums and zoos reopen on May 26. On May 30, spas and video lottery retailers can resume operations. Casinos can reopen June 5.

Justice’s plan to lift restrictions hinges on the state’s positive test rate staying under 3% for three days, loosening a previous goal of having the number of new cases drop for two weeks. Clay Marsh, a West Virginia University official leading the state’s virus response, has said the state has enough downward trending indicators to ease restrictions.

At least 70 people in West Virginia have died from the virus and around 1,600 have tested positive, according to health officials.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up within weeks. But for others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, the highly contagious virus can cause severe symptoms and be fatal. The vast majority of people recover