HARTFORD (AP) — Connecticut Department of Labor Commissioner Kurt Westby said Friday his agency is still seeing an “unprecedented number” of unemployment claims because of the coronavirus pandemic, but has managed to reduce processing times to one-to-two weeks from a high of six weeks.

The department is in the process of establishing a new consumer contact center, which Westby said will launch in mid-July. DOL currently has about 100 customer service representatives and about 40 staff answering phone calls. The new consumer contact center will add 60 new customer service representatives that will help applicants by phone and email. The center will also have text, chat, call back, and virtual assistant features.

“We are still seeing an unprecedented number of claims applications," he said in a written statement. “The consumer contact center will help us more quickly get benefits out to people while still protecting the system from fraud and criminal activity."

Of the 635,772 applications received, the department has processed 617,296 of them.

In other coronavirus news in Connecticut:

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NURSING HOME DEATHS

The number of deaths in Connecticut's long-term care facilities continues to grow. As of June 17, there were 2,719 confirmed and probable COVID deaths in nursing homes. A week earlier, as of June 10, there were 2,648 deaths, according to data released Friday.

At assisted living facilities, there were 361 confirmed and probable COVID deaths as of June 17. On June 9, there were 349.

In a joint statement, representatives of the state's nursing home and assisted living industry, noted the governor's weekly report does not include the number of residents who have recovered from COVID-19, which they said indicate the nursing home sector is recovering from the pandemic.

“Through the exemplary work of nursing home employees, the nursing homes are now emerging from the targeted impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” wrote Mag Morelli, President of LeadingAge Connecticut and Matt Barrett, President and CEO the Connecticut Association of Health Care Facilities/Connecticut Center for Assisted Living.

As of Friday, there have been 4,238 total COVID-associated deaths, an increase of 12 since Thursday.

Meanwhile, overall positive cases of COVID-19 continue to grow in Connecticut, albeit at a much slower rate than the height of the pandemic. As of Friday, there have been 45,557 confirmed cases in the state, an increase of 117 since Thursday. Hospitalizations continue to decline. The number dropped by four people to 172 on Friday. Fairfield County, with 66 people, had the largest number of patients being treated for COVID-19.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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