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COVID-19 continues to cause job losses in North Central Idaho

by Kathryn Tacke, Regional Economist Idaho Department of Labor

COVID-19 continues to cause job losses in the region.

In the week ending April 25, North Central Idaho workers filed 266 unemployment insurance claims. That was the lowest amount in five weeks, but nearly three times higher than the week of March 14, the week before the coronavirus tsunami swamped the region's economy. In the six weeks from March 15 through April 25, North Central Idaho workers filed 3,445 initial claims. That's nearly as many as the 3,666 initial claims filed om all of 2019. About 6.7 percent of the region's residents who were employed before the crisis filed initial claims in that six-week period.

Lewis and Clearwater counties have been hardest hit by the crisis, using the criteria of percentage of previously employed residents who have filed claims, as the table below shows. They and Idaho County saw more initial claims filed in just six weeks than in all of 2019.

To assist businesses struggling in the harsh environment caused by COVID-19, the Port of Lewiston plans to allow its tenants to defer up to 35 percent of their lease payments in May, June, and July without interest or late fees. Whatever amount a tenant defers; it would have to be paid within 10 months starting in August. The port serves as landlord to 28 businesses at its incubator and business parks. Source: Lewiston Tribune

The steep decline in passengers caused by the coronavirus has forced carriers to reduce service to the region's airports. In early April, Sky West dropped two of its three daily round trips between the Lewiston and Salt Lake City. As of May 1, it will provide service on only five days a week. At the Pullman-Moscow Regional Airport, Horizon Air is making a single round trip each day between Pullman and Seattle. On May 3, that flight will begin stopping in Walla Walla on its way to Pullman. Before the coronavirus, Horizon Air made as many as five round trips a day. Source: Lewiston Tribune; Moscow-Pullman Daily News

The University of Idaho's Biological Sciences department will use a $100,000 National Science Foundation grant to look for a drug that blocks viruses from attacking human cells. The drug ideally would prevent the "spikes" on the coronavirus from docking with and thereby infecting a healthy cell. That would be a more effective strategy in the long run than antiviral drugs, because viruses can evolve rapidly making drugs ineffective. Source: Idaho Education News

Another research team at the University of Idaho, composed of engineers, recently developed a way to use ultraviolet light to kill or inactivate viruses, which health care providers can use to sterilize and reuse protective equipment including face masks. The project started when an emergency room doctor at St. Joseph Regional Medical Center in Lewiston contacted the College of Engineering for help designing and building a UVC cabinet. A team of electrical, mechanical and biological engineers quickly formed to tackle the problem and rapidly built the large unit requested by St. Joseph, Then, the team put together an open-source document with a plan any medical facility can use to build its own. Source: Lewiston Tribune

Hospitals, especially rural critical access hospitals, are struggling as their costs have risen and revenues have plummeted. They spent money to ensure they have personal protective equipment and other medical supplies on hand in case of a significant COVID-19 outbreak in their communities. At the same time, their most profitable operations-elective surgeries and many outpatient services-were shut down. That in turn led to a decrease in imaging and therapy services. With people afraid to potentially expose themselves to patients with coronavirus, fewer patients are arriving at emergency rooms. In addition, the dramatic decrease in traffic and the closures of many workplaces has reduced the number of accidents.

The Idaho Hospital Association estimates that emergency departments in Idaho have seen an average of 40 to 50 percent decrease in patients. At Syringa Hospital in Grangeville, emergency room visits fell 60 percent. Syringa furloughed 10 of its 70 employees for 30 days ending in mid-May. All of its administrators and most of its doctors, nurse practitioners and physician assistants took voluntary pay cuts up to 10 percent. After implementing new safety measures, the hospital resumed routine care at the end of April. The coronavirus-caused financial crunch forced Gritman Medical Center, the Moscow hospital which employs 566, to lay off an unspecified number of employees in late April. In addition, executives and many physicians, nurse practitioners, nurse anesthetists, and physician assistants accepted salary reductions. As of May 1, Gritman and St. Joseph Regional Medical Center in Lewiston resumed elective surgeries and some outpatient services. The CARES Act provides federal dollars to keep hospitals functioning. For most hospitals, the amount they receive is about two weeks of revenue. Source: Lewiston Tribune; Post Register; Spokesman Review.


Laid-off Idaho workers filed 117,811 initial claims for unemployment benefits during the six weeks of the COVID-19 state of emergency - twice the total number of initial claims filed in all of 2019.

Initial claims reached 8,827 during the week ending April 25, a 32 percent decline from the previous week.

It was the third week the number of new claims fell, while continued claims - the number of valid claims filed by people who are eligible, currently claiming benefits and still unable to return to work - reached 71,416.

Health care and social assistance jobs represented 19 percent of all new claims, followed by accommodations and food services, and retail at about 15 percent each. Combined, the three sectors represent nearly half - 48.6 percent - of the total new claims filed during the week.

COVID-19 layoffs continue to affect people of all ages, with young people under age 25 representing more than 26 percent of initial claims for the week. Women represent 54 percent.

The Department of Labor paid out just under $45 million in benefits to laid-off Idaho workers between March 23 and April 25. Payouts for the week of April 19 - 25 reached $13.7 million, a 7.2 percent increase over the previous week, and seven times higher than the same week in 2019. This does not include the $600 weekly payment from the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program, which was implemented in Idaho on April 24.

Weekly claims by county and industry are available on a data dashboard at lmi.idaho.gov/ui-weekly-claims.

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