Healthcare, Latest News, State Government

WorkForce still working to handle unemployment claims backlog; W.Va. positive cases remain among lowest in U.S.

MORGANTOWN — Monday was the first day for the West Virginia National Guard to aid WorkForce West Virginia with the backlog of unemployment claims stemming from coronavirus-related business closures.

Over the weekend The Dominion Post received questions from residents who are seeking benefits, have been unable to get through and remain frustrated.

It was clear that others also remain frustrated as Gov. Jim Justice and his leadership team fielded several questions about the backlog during Monday’s press briefing.

Justice said that WorkForce, teamed with the National Guard, is moving toward the equivalency of three call centers that can accept claims around the clock. “We should get these claims taken care of and the phones answered and your questions answered as well.”

Officials indicated the effects won’t be immediate, and people may still not get trough right away.

Adjutant General James Hoyer said, “Our citizens should start seeing improvements over the next couple of days.”

Justice’s General Counse Brian Abraham said the key to fixing the backlog is adding people. They plan to add claim processors along with more taking the calls. “We’re reducing the backlog day by day,” he said.

Justice and Abraham both said that one sticking point is that all claims have to be processed through a federal portal created to handle the claims eligible for CARES Act benefits. Justice said it’s been an ongoing bottleneck. Abraham said state IT staff are trying to work on a technical fix to get the portal to work better.

Justice and his team discussed Monday’s coronavirus statistics at some length, with the daily mix of cheerleading and precaution.

As of Monday morning, there were 345 positive cases in the state out of a total 9,940 tests, with four deaths. The rate of positive tests to the total was 3.47%, remaining well below the national average of around 10%, they said. Only Minnesota has a lower percentage.

We’re remaining below the national mark, Justice said because of the precautions we took and are still taking. “It’s working and it’s working fatuously in the state of West Virginia.” Reminding all that we are the highest risk state because of proportion of elderly and chronically ill residents, he added, “If we stay the course we hope we don’t have long to go. … The hope can turn ugly really, really quickly. … Overreaction will never hurt us. It may inconvenience us but it will never hurt us.”

COVID-19 Czar Clay Marsh referred again to the University of Washington model used to predict the growth and spread of the pandemic in the U.S.

The model is dynamic, he said, as new data is fed into it. Because of West Virginia’s ongoing measures, the model’s projections have improved for the state.

The surge of cases that was predicted to peak around May 4 has moved up to April 15. The model’s total number of projected deaths has dropped from 500 down to 150 to 170, he said.

“Our power is to starve this virus,” he said. “We are doing a great job as a state.” We need to stay connected spiritually and morally but not physically.

Everyone is still hoping to avoid the surge, Marsh said. But once it is past and we’ve gotten through it, many people still won’t be immune and they’ll have to determine the next steps at that point.

As of Monday, among the 55 counties, the Department of Health and Human Resources reported that Kanawha had the most positives, at 56. Berkeley was second, at 54 and Monongalia was third, with 53.

Among Mon’s neighbors, Preston had four, Marion had 15, Harrison had 25 and Taylor had one.

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