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Washington state working to keep up with sharp spike in unemployment claims due to coronavirus

The Employment Security Department is hiring more staff and extending service hours, as people lose jobs in the ripple effect of the coronavirus pandemic.

SEATTLE — Washington's coronavirus outbreak has led to offices locked, businesses closed and employees out of work.

And as jobless claims spike, Washington State's Employment Security Department describes an unprecedented demand for its services.

RELATED: Who qualifies for Washington unemployment during the coronavirus outbreak?

The agency's call center has seen an 827% increase in calls.

On Tuesday, the call center received more than 19,000 calls. The agency's website had 500,000 users over the course of two days this week.

Last week, there was a 150% increase in the number of claims.

For Rochelle Gunn of Brier, the busy phone lines are having a direct impact.

Gunn has been unemployed since November, after she lost her job of 13 years. 

"I went online and also tried to call, and it seemed like they were helpful and it was okay at that time," Gunn said.

Today, the situation is much different.

"The issue I am having now is that I am unable to contact anyone to file my claim to get my benefits. And so it has been a week now and there is no one to talk to, and I can't do what I need to do," Gunn said.

Chris Mefford, the CEO and President of Community Attributes Inc. prepared a report for the Seattle Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce that found 40% of all jobs in King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties are going to be affected immediately.

That works out to more than 900,000 jobs in the three counties.

"We don't mean to say that those jobs are lost immediately. We just know they're going to be affected through some sort of change in how they work, interacting with customers. It could be a reduction in wage. It could be a temporary job loss," Mefford said. 

RELATED: Washington state prepares for employment impacts from coronavirus

"We know that with small businesses and even some medium-sized businesses, they will lose their business during this shutdown. Not all small businesses have capital reserves and resources to simply hit pause and start back up again."

Mefford says the single biggest economic benefit we can focus on right now is to stop the virus.

RELATED: Real-time updates: Latest news on the Washington coronavirus outbreak

The uncertain times have been extremely tough for Gunn. She says she is behind on her car payment, can't afford groceries and has a 3-year-old son at home.

"For my son, to be able to drive around and to be able to feed him, I'm really depending on this money. And with the 13 years I put into this company, I deserve this. I need help, and there is no one to talk to," Gunn said.

The Employment Security Department says they are doing everything they can to expand their capacity. That includes hiring more staff and extending service hours to seven days a week. Gov. Jay Inslee also waived the one week waiting period for unemployment insurance benefits.

RELATED: Jobless claims jump by 70,000 as virus starts to take hold

RELATED: List: Resources for Washington businesses and workers impacted by the coronavirus pandemic

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