ST. PAUL — Approximately 18,700 people applied for unemployment insurance in Minnesota on Wednesday, April 8, bringing the total number of jobless claims in the state to 385,318

The latest state Department of Employment and Economic Development figures show that Minnesota, despite its comparatively lower rates of infection, continues to suffer from the painful consequences of an economic shutdown brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. Counties that make up and surround the Twin Cities area, as well as St. Louis County, are among the hardest hit.

Nationally, jobless claims submitted last week totaled more than 6.6 million.That means more than 16 million Americans have lost their jobs since mid-March, according to U.S. Department of Labor statistics.

State officials on Thursday, April 9, did not appear to be without hope, however.

"Every day has been a week-over-week decline since last week," DEED Commissioner Steve Grove said during a press conference call that afternoon.

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Out-of-work Minnesotans who call DEED to apply for unemployment benefits are spending less time on hold, Grove said, a sign that fewer people may be calling in at a time. And Minnesota has already begun to offer unemployment recipients an extra $600 in federal benefits per week through the U.S. Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, or CARES.

Grove pointed to DEED's continuing search for and publication of job openings on its website as another example of the state government's efforts to aid idled workers.

Business owners caught another break Thursday when Gov. Tim Walz signed an executive order that extends the deadline for sales and use taxes due in March and April until May 20. Some regional businesses are already waiting on other forms of relief to be disbursed through the myriad loan programs established by the CARES Act.

Walz's order came as state Republican lawmakers continued their calls Thursday for him to reopen Minnesota's economy. A day earlier, the governor extended the stay-at-home order originally due to expire on Friday, April 10, to May 4.

During Thursday's press call, Walz acknowledged the frustration that the shutdown has caused for workers and employers but defended it as necessary to stem the virus's spread.

"To think that somehow there would be any pleasure in doing this, or that we would do this if it wasn’t the right thing to do, is simply wrong," he said.

On Thursday, state health officials reported that 11 more people died in Minnesota of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, bringing the state death toll to 50. A total of 1,242 people have tested positive for the disease, up 88 from the day before.

So far, 675 of Minnesota's COVID-19 have recovered and no longer need to be isolated. A further 145 remain in the hospital, with 63 in intensive care.