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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A collaboration with Amazon Web Services (AWS) has helped Rhode Island survive an unprecedented torrent of unemployment claims.

Why it matters: While tech companies were well-positioned to pivot to digital-first business in the wake of the coronavirus lockdown, state governments faced paralysis. With the pandemic continuing and lockdowns potentially returning, states will need to innovate to keep their systems running.

By the numbers: More than 40 million Americans have filed for unemployment since the start of the pandemic.

  • Rhode Island, which has a population of just over 1 million people, received more than 140,000 jobless claims in the 45 days after a state of emergency was declared on March 9.

At the onset of the crisis, the state was trying to process those claims using 30-year-old systems. And since Rhode Island requires the unemployed to file a continuing claim each week to get benefits, "It looked like we could be facing 200,000 people calling within a 12-hour period," says Scott Jensen, the director of Rhode Island's department of labor and training.

  • At the start of the crisis, the department could only handle 75 concurrent calls. "The math didn't work anymore," says Jensen.

What happened: Rhode Island reached out to AWS, which was working to update the technological infrastructure of state governments.

  • AWS helped install Amazon Connect, the company's cloud-based contact center solution, the same system Amazon uses to handle the Black Friday sales event. That gave the department the ability to process up to 2,000 concurrent calls, ensuring that "no one was getting a busy signal."

What they're saying: "Instead of having to hire a new labor force, you can use your existing employees and scale them so they don't need to be in a call center," says Teresa Carlson, vice-president of the worldwide public sector at AWS. "They can be virtual instead."

  • AWS has worked with other states on updating unemployment systems, including Massachusetts, as has its cloud competitor Google.

The bottom line: State governments need to move fast to catch up with the digital transformation forced by the pandemic.

Go deeper

The Americans who most need a stimulus

Expand chart
Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics; Chart: Axios Visuals

One group of Americans needs a fresh stimulus package more than any other: The 2.4 million Americans — and rising — who have been unemployed for more than six months.

Why it matters: While the economic recession looks like it ended in April, rising long-term unemployment acts as a drag on the broader economy. Without new stimulus, the number of jobless could end up being almost as bad as the Great Recession of 2008-9.

Updated 9 hours ago - Energy & Environment

Bomb cyclone prompts blizzard warnings from Virginia to Maine

Computer model projection showing the intense storm off of Cape Cod on Jan 29, 2022, with heavy snow and strong winds lashing the coastline. (Weatherbell.com)

Blizzard warnings are in effect for 11 million people from coastal Virginia to eastern Maine as a historic winter storm is set to slam the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast beginning Friday.

Why it matters: The storm will bring hazards ranging from zero visibility amid hurricane force wind gusts and heavy snow, to coastal flooding that will erode vulnerable beaches and threaten property from the Jersey shore to coastal Massachusetts.

Updated 9 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

  1. Health: Contact tracing fizzles across America — New clues emerge on long COVID — Omicron is finally burning out — It's very difficult to get access to antiviral COVID treatments — Axios-Ipsos poll: Omicron's big numbersAnother wave of death — FDA limits use of Regeneron and Lilly antibody treatments.
  2. Vaccines: Pfizer begins clinical trial for Omicron-specific vaccine — The shifting definition of fully vaccinated.
  3. Politics: Virginia AG says public colleges can't mandate COVID vaccines —Alaska governor joins Texas lawsuit over National Guard vaccine mandate — Navy discharges 45 sailors for refusing vaccine — Spotify to remove Neil Young's music after his Joe Rogan ultimatum — White House: 60M households have ordered free COVID-19 rapid tests.
  4. World: U.K. to lift travel testing requirement for fully vaccinated — Beijing Olympic Committee lowers testing threshold ahead of Games.
  5. Variant tracker