Virus Outbreak Alabama Graduation

Friends and family members attend Spain Park High School's graduation ceremony Wednesday at the Hoover Met. Everyone attending the ceremony had to wear a mask as a precaution against the spread of the coronavirus. [JOE SONGER/THE BIRMINGHAM NEWS VIA AP]

MONTGOMERY — Claims for unemployment compensation during the coronavirus pandemic have topped 500,000 in Alabama, officials said Thursday, but the rate of increase has declined as the state's economy reopens.

The state Department of Labor said 25,150 initial jobless claims were filed last week, bringing the state total since mid-March to a record 501,630.

The applications from last week were the lowest since late March and continued an overall downward trend as parts of Alabama's economy reopen — even though the total number of coronavirus cases continues to climb, including in the capital of Montgomery.

The state said about 64% of the unemployment applications from last week were related to COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. Jefferson County, the state's most populous area, had the largest number of claims with 3,715.

Statewide, 2,563 claims were filed by people who worked in administrative and support services, followed by 2,074 claims from displaced restaurant and bar workers.

The state economy will get another boost next week as the Army's Redstone Arsenal begins reopening in Huntsville. The garrison commander, Col. Kelsey Smith, described the move as a "first step toward recovery" that was being taken after cases declined for five consecutive days in the 16-county region where base employees live.

"I'm not saying we should all get excited," Smith said in an announcement made on Facebook. "We are far from through this."

Building capacities will be limited to make social distancing easier on the base, where about 40,000 people work, and increased cleaning is planned, he said.

More than 13,000 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in the state, and 522 people have died. Most people recover from COVID-19, but people with other health problems and the elderly are particularly susceptible.

Gov. Kay Ivey has loosened restrictions in recent weeks to help businesses and other employers recover, and the current state health order expires Friday. Ivey planned a news conference for Thursday afternoon to discuss the state response.

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