In an email Wednesday, the Labor Department told state officials they needed to hold off on releasing the exact number of unemployment claims they are receiving amid the accelerating COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, The New York Times reports.
The Times obtained a copy of the email, which says that until the Labor Department releases the total number of national claims next Thursday, state officials should only "provide information using generalities to describe claims levels (very high, large increase)" and "not provide numeric values to the public."
The message was written by Gay Gilbert, administrator of the Labor Department's Office of Employment Insurance. She has worked under Republican and Democratic administrations, and there is no indication political appointees asked her to send the request, the Times says. Still, many states were disturbed by the email, and one governor's office said it had asked the state attorney general whether it had to temporarily withhold the numbers.
In Washington, where at least 74 people have died from COVID-19, a state official would tell the Times only that they are seeing an "even more dramatic increase this week" after unemployment claims rose 150 percent last week from the week prior. The federal government on Thursday morning reported that 281,000 people applied for unemployment insurance last week, an increase from 211,000 the previous week.