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FILE - In this March 30, 2020, file photo Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks during a news conference at a drive-through coronavirus testing site in front of Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee, File)

DeSantis says unemployment system now up to speed

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 safer-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.

Meanwhile, several civil rights groups have filed a federal lawsuit against the Miami-Dade County corrections department seeking an emergency order to release medically vulnerable inmates at one of its main jail sites. The lawsuit contends that the MetroWest Detention Center is a “petri dish” for the virus and that inmates lack basic protections.

“People are crammed together in dorm-style bunks, 60 people to a cell, without access to the basic things that we have on the outside. They have no hand sanitizer, no gloves, no ability to distance,” said Maya Ragsdale, an attorney with the group Dream Defenders, in a news release.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of seven of the jail’s roughly 1,800 inmates. A telephone hearing on a request for a temporary injunction on the release of certain inmates was set for Monday afternoon before U.S. District Judge Kathleen Williams. The corrections department declined comment on a pending legal case.

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Spencer reported from Fort Lauderdale. AP reporter Curt Anderson in St. Petersburg contributed to this report.

Author: BOBBY CAINA CALVAN and TERRY SPENCER, The Associated Press
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