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Florida governor says unemployment system now up to speed

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said Monday that the state's heavily criticized unemployment system should now be able to handle the crush of applicants it is receiving as workers lose their jobs because of the coronavirus outbreak.

He said the computer system's capacity has been increased to handle 120,000 simultaneous connections, about double the peak usage in recent weeks, and by Tuesday 750 additional state employees will be trained to handle and process phone calls. Private call centers are also being contracted to provide additional service. Last week, 3.8 million calls were made to the department, 50% more than all of last year.

More than 520,000 Floridians have applied for unemployment since March 15, compared to 326,000 in all of last year.

'We are in a position where people have lost their jobs, they are looking for relief and they were having a lot of difficulty," DeSantis said. “People were on this site and it was timing out. People would go hours and hours upon end and it was totally unacceptable. You have a single mother who no longer has a job, who has to worry about how the rent is going to be paid, how food is going to be put on the table. We want this system to be accessible.”

Also, DeSantis said that he has been in contact with religious leaders. Christians are in Holy Week leading up to Easter Sunday and Jews commemorate Passover, which begins Wednesday.

He said that while he exempted houses of worship from the stay-at-home order he issued last week, he encouraged them to hold their services online, outdoors or in other ways to limit person-to-person contact.

“We want people at this time to be spiritually together but to remain socially distant,” he said. “Please keep God close but keep COVID-19 away.”

State statistics show that almost 13,000 people have been diagnosed with the disease and 235 have died since the outbreak began being tracked a month ago. About 1,600 people are hospitalized in the state.

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Spencer reported from Fort Lauderdale.

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Follow AP news coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak