As American businesses reopen in fits and starts — and anxiety over new coronavirus hot spots increases — state unemployment offices still have their hands full.

Nearly 1.5 million workers filed new claims for state unemployment insurance last week, the Labor Department reported Thursday, the 14th week in a row that the figure has topped one million.

An additional 728,000 filed for benefits from Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, a federally funded emergency program aimed at covering the self-employed, independent contractors and other workers who don’t qualify for traditional unemployment insurance.

To be sure, the weekly pace of new state filings is a fraction of the more than 6.5 million recorded in early April. As businesses have reopened, some employees have been called back. The total number of people collecting state unemployment insurance for the week ending June 13 was 19.5 million, seasonally adjusted, a decrease of 767,000 from the previous week and down from nearly 25 million in early May.

Despite the drop in continuing claims, “19.5 million is still a very high number to have on unemployment benefits,” said Torsten Slok, chief economist at Deutsche Bank Securities. In February, before the pandemic arrived in full force, that total stood at two million.

“It’s difficult to argue that this is a real improvement,” he said. “We still have a long, long road ahead of us.” What’s more, the 19.5 million figure doesn’t include over 11 million individuals receiving federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance as of June 6. That means roughly 30 million Americans were receiving some sort of unemployment benefit.

In a separate report Thursday, the Commerce Department reported that durable goods orders rose 15.8 percent in May, well above the 10.5 percent increase that economists had been expecting. Stronger sales of items like cars and washers and dryers are a bullish indicator and hint at the demand for many goods that has built up since the economy effectively shut down in March.

As the latest data suggest, the American economy has been sending conflicting signals. On the one hand, New York and some other places that were hard hit early in the outbreak are starting to get back to business.

But a spike in cases in states that reopened earlier has raised fears of new setbacks. On Thursday, Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas said the state “will pause any further phases to open” because of the recent increase in positive tests and hospitalizations. And California and Florida have posted record numbers of new cases in recent days.

After reopening, Apple has shut its stores in four states — Florida, South Carolina, North Carolina and Arizona — and on Wednesday closed seven stores in Houston.

“The renewed outbreak will hinder the recovery,” said Carl Tannenbaum, chief economist at Northern Trust in Chicago. “I can’t help but think that the willingness of consumers to be in crowded places has diminished. It’s going to be a long haul to get back to where we were before the pandemic.”

The persistently high level of new jobless claims has raised questions for economists like Mr. Slok, who terms the million-plus weekly totals a “real mystery.”

One possibility is that many states are still working through a huge backlog of claims, as old computer systems struggle to adapt to an inflow that dwarfs that of previous downturns.

In addition, some businesses that were spared early in the crisis may be starting to trim their work forces. Changes in the guidelines for the federal Paycheck Protection Program may also be playing a role; as requirements for maintaining payrolls expire, more workers may be getting pink slips.

A survey released this week from the National Federation of Independent Business found that 14 percent of employers planned to cut workers after making use of Paycheck Protection Program loans. More than 40 percent of business owners said they had seen no increase in sales as restrictions eased in many states.

The latest monthly jobs data from the federal government only added to the mystery. In May, employment rose by 2.5 million, the Labor Department reported, with the official unemployment rate dropping to 13.3 percent. The report for June will be released in a week.

“There’s a lot of turmoil in the labor market, a lot of churn,” said Joel Prakken, chief U.S. economist at the consulting and research firm IHS Markit. While economists have debated whether the recovery will take the form of a V or a Nike swoosh, Mr. Prakken said the recent uptick in coronavirus cases could create a W-shaped rebound. “The upturn in cases is worrisome,” he added.

So far, the recovery has been uneven, according to data analyzed by IHS. After being down 100 percent in April, the number of seated diners at restaurants is now off by 40 percent, a considerable improvement. Demand for gasoline is halfway back to where it was before the virus. But spending on air travel and moviegoing remains depressed.

The shaky economic outlook has both experts and workers worried about the looming expiration of the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program, which provides a supplement of $600 a week to those collecting state jobless benefits.

“It’s made all the difference, because basic unemployment isn’t enough,” said Richard Brenin, who was laid off in March from his position doing postproduction work for television shows and movies in Los Angeles.

Without the $600 federal payment, Mr. Brenin would collect $450 a week. “It barely covers the rent, with nothing left over for the car payment, basic expenses or food,” he said, and he and his husband “don’t have much saved up.”

  • Updated June 24, 2020

    • Is it harder to exercise while wearing a mask?

      A commentary published this month on the website of the British Journal of Sports Medicine points out that covering your face during exercise “comes with issues of potential breathing restriction and discomfort” and requires “balancing benefits versus possible adverse events.” Masks do alter exercise, says Cedric X. Bryant, the president and chief science officer of the American Council on Exercise, a nonprofit organization that funds exercise research and certifies fitness professionals. “In my personal experience,” he says, “heart rates are higher at the same relative intensity when you wear a mask.” Some people also could experience lightheadedness during familiar workouts while masked, says Len Kravitz, a professor of exercise science at the University of New Mexico.

    • I’ve heard about a treatment called dexamethasone. Does it work?

      The steroid, dexamethasone, is the first treatment shown to reduce mortality in severely ill patients, according to scientists in Britain. The drug appears to reduce inflammation caused by the immune system, protecting the tissues. In the study, dexamethasone reduced deaths of patients on ventilators by one-third, and deaths of patients on oxygen by one-fifth.

    • What is pandemic paid leave?

      The coronavirus emergency relief package gives many American workers paid leave if they need to take time off because of the virus. It gives qualified workers two weeks of paid sick leave if they are ill, quarantined or seeking diagnosis or preventive care for coronavirus, or if they are caring for sick family members. It gives 12 weeks of paid leave to people caring for children whose schools are closed or whose child care provider is unavailable because of the coronavirus. It is the first time the United States has had widespread federally mandated paid leave, and includes people who don’t typically get such benefits, like part-time and gig economy workers. But the measure excludes at least half of private-sector workers, including those at the country’s largest employers, and gives small employers significant leeway to deny leave.

    • Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?

      So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • How does blood type influence coronavirus?

      A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.


Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia is opposed to extending the supplement, and many Republicans on Capitol Hill share his outlook as Congress considers new emergency relief.

“I don’t think the $600 benefit is the answer going forward,” Mr. Scalia said in an interview with CNBC on Wednesday.

Many workers who filed for state unemployment insurance never received it, a sign that the economic pain may be worse than the claims data suggests.

After Chris Bryan was furloughed from his job as the manager of a small health club in Portland, Ore., in March, he and his partner applied for several benefit programs.

They received food stamps but not unemployment insurance, and finances have been tight. Mr. Bryan got a letter on May 23 saying that he had been approved for unemployment payments on March 25, but is still empty-handed — he has tried calling four different numbers for at least an hour a day with no luck.

“I keep hearing the same guy on the automated recording — I think he and I are best friends now,” he said.

Mr. Bryan said his apartment complex had been understanding, allowing him to postpone his rent payments. He has tried to find odd jobs, with little success. If he does not receive government aid in the next week, he plans to start looking for work as a day laborer in construction, and he is considering moving somewhere more affordable with his partner and their 1-year-old daughter.

“I’m trying to stay pretty positive, but of course it’s rough,” he added. “Doubt creeps in — is there something more I could’ve done? Did I fail in not saving enough money? You beat yourself up about it.”

Even some of those back on the job are nervous. At the fast-casual restaurant chain where Chloe Spainhower works in Bellingham, Wash., managers only recently added a sneeze guard and many customers pass through without masks.

Her manager told employees that they could take a 30-day leave without pay, which is tempting to Ms. Spainhower. But she needs the money.

“I’m glad that I still have a job,” she said. “But I feel let down that my employer didn’t take things seriously at first.”

Tiffany Hsu contributed reporting, and Sheelagh McNeill contributed research.

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