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People, businesses adapt to uncertainty

Photo by Michael Kelly A sign in the window of the Marietta Dance Academy on Front Street lets people know that instruction is available online while the building is closed.

People and businesses in Marietta are doing what they can to adjust to the staggering increase in unemployment brought on by business closures in relation to containing the COVID-19 virus.

As of the end of last week, more than 3 million new claims for unemployment insurance had been filed nationwide, a level that eclipses any in the history of labor statistics. The previous record number came in October 1982, when a stock market crash triggered a recession. In that month, 695,000 new claims were filed.

In Ohio, 187, 784 new claims were for the week ending March 21, 180,000 more than the previous week, according to U.S. Department of Labor data.

On Friday afternoon, although Front Street was nearly deserted, activity was taking place behind the closed doors of restaurants and other enterprises. Over the Moon Pub & Pizza, like most of the other restaurants in town, is still offering delivery and take-out orders while its dining room is closed.

Michael “Moon” Mullen, the proprietor, said he’s tried to keep his staff going, distributing reduced hours among those who wish to continue working.

Photo by Michael Kelly Two people walk down Front Street Friday afternoon in eerily quiet downtown Marietta. Streets are nearly deserted as the city waits out the need to isolate from COVID-19.

“We’re running in thin shifts, there aren’t as many hours as there used to be, but we’re trying to keep everybody getting some hours,” Mullen said as he got ready to take a delivery run. “I put out the call to everybody to see who wanted some hours, and we’re trying to accommodate that, but nobody is getting the same hours they did two weeks ago.”

Mullen said he feels fortunate that his business is one that can continue operating, even in a reduced manner.

“We’re doing our best to change gears from a bar and sit-down restaurant to carry-out and delivery. Our hearts go out to all the small businesses that don’t have that opportunity. We see too many closed doors downtown,” he said. “I hope this federal relief package helps all those who need it.”

Other restaurants also are offering carry-out and delivery service, and even the Marietta Dance Academy is offering online dance instruction, according to a note in its window. The Peddler of Dreams Children’s Artspace had a full rack of children’s book outside its entry, with a sign encouraging people to simply take them and read to their children.

The isolation decrees have shut down personal services operations such as spas and salons, tattoo artists and barbers. Those who have gone professionally idle include massage therapist Kaylee Jakubowksi.

Jakubowski had just returned to work in early March after being on leave to have a baby.

“The governor shut us down a week ago Wednesday,” she said. “At first, it was directed toward tattoo artists, nail salons, but didn’t specifically mention massage, then a couple days later it did.”

Jakubowski said her family, including a baby boy born in December, her first child, is managing well enough.

“We have our essential supplies, my husband goes out every once in a while to restock,” she said. “We’re spending lots of time outside, taking walks, and the house is getting a deep clean.”

She said it’s difficult to know when to expect things will return to some semblance of normal.

“From what I’ve gathered, maybe May 1? I hope and pray things get back to normal before then,” she said. “In the meantime, I’m staying away from social media and negativity.”

As of Friday afternoon, Ohio had 1,137 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 267 hospital admissions, 107 of those in intensive care, and 19 fatalities. Cases have been found in all but 27 of Ohio’s 88 counties, with two positive tests in Washington County. Fatalities have occurred in Columbiana, Cuyahoga, Erie, Franklin, Gallia, Lucas, Mahoning, Miami, Stark, Summit and Turnbull counties.

The data was issued by the Ohio governor’s office.

Flite Freimann, director of Job and Family Services for Washington County, said Friday he hopes the unemployment intakes will peak soon and then drop off substantially as people return to work.

“We’re not really going to have a good idea until two or three weeks from now,” he said. “I would anticipate the unemployment numbers continue to rise, and then what we’re hoping to see then is a huge drop-off.”

The number of idled workers has swamped the Washington County office, he said.

“Our traffic is unlike anything anyone has ever seen,” he said. “We’ve had on average 20 people a day coming into the Ohio Means Jobs center looking for help in filing claims. These are people who don’t have a computer at home, and that doesn’t include people calling in needing help.”

The state’s computer system for filing unemployment claims has been taxed to the limit.

“It’s experienced crashes. If you have access to internet at home, try to file in late evening or early morning,” he said. “One of the problems we have is that your unemployment record is tracked by Social Security number and a PIN (personal identification number). You might have created an account previously, have an existing account, and if you don’t remember the PIN, you have to do a reset, maybe you can’t remember the answer to the security questions, or maybe you don’t remember exactly how you typed the answer. All that takes up a huge amount of bandwidth.”

Friemann said the one-week waiting period has been waived, which contributes to the online congestion.

“We’ve also got options for people not specifically tied to unemployment, like TANF, temporary assistance to needy families,” he said.

That program can help people with rent and utilities.

Michael Kelly can be reached at mkelly@mariettatimes.com

Unemployment claims

• National, week ending March 21: 3,283,00.

• National, week ending March 14: 282,000.

• Increase (new claims) for the week: 3,001,000.

• Previous record increase: October 1982: 695,000.

• Ohio, week ending March 21: 187,784.

• Ohio, week ending March 14: 7,046.

• Increase: 180,738.

Source: U.S. Department of Labor.

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