CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Almost 6,000 West Virginians applied for unemployment benefits last week as the coronavirus pandemic continues to pummel the state's economy, according to federal records released Thursday.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Almost 6,000 West Virginians applied for unemployment benefits last week as the coronavirus pandemic continues to pummel the state's economy, according to federal records released Thursday.


Republican Gov. Jim Justice, joining governors across the country, is pushing forward with a plan to lift virus restrictions on businesses in a desperate bid to restart the economy. State officials have said they have already processed more than 164,000 unemployment claims since mid March.


Nationwide, nearly 3 million laid-off workers filed for jobless aid last week, pushing the total number of claims since the outbreak began to around 36 million. Last week's pace of new applications for aid is four times the record high that prevailed before the coronavirus struck hard in March.


Justice is easing the state's lockdown in a phased out strategy that has already allowed hospitals to resume elective procedures and reopened drive-in theaters, physical therapy centers, outdoor seating at restaurants, small businesses, and barbershops.


He has timed his most aggressive step for May 21, the Thursday before Memorial Day weekend, when he will allow restaurants to open at half-capacity and let big-box stores and a host of recreational services reopen.


The governor has said lifting restrictions is a balance between safety and economics, warning that the virus could lead to severe damage in a state with a high number of senior citizens and people with underlying health problems.


The steps of Justice's reopening plan requires the state's positive test rate to remain below 3% for three consecutive days, reversing a previous goal of having the number of new cases decline for two weeks. His administration has not explained why it loosened the standard but officials have said the state has enough downward trending metrics to lift restrictions.


At least 62 people in the state have died from the virus and around 1,400 have tested positive, health data show.