HONOLULU (KHON2)–Unemployment claims are skyrocketing according to Department of Labor and Industrial Relations Director Scott Murakami. The surge in those seeking assistance is directly linked to COVID-19 and efforts being made to halt its spread.

“Our big jump happened yesterday. Yesterday we saw a five-fold increase over the Monday prior. So that’s about a 500 percent increase. It went from 300 to just shy of 1500,” Murakami explained.

And he said they don’t know how many people will be impacted in the State.

“At this point, I would have to tell you that all bets are off. We’re not even relying on our modeling capabilities anymore because our model was based off 9/11.”

To prevent people jamming into the unemployment office, Murakami said they will no longer take walk-ins.

“Whenever we have a situation like this happen, our local unemployment office becomes a hub of activity and that raised a lot of concern for us given the nature of COVID-19 and the need for social distancing. Starting today we are doing unemployment claims, we’re taking unemployment claims only by appointment by phone.”

The shift is meant to help prevent the spread of the virus.

There are two options to file–call to make an appointment or apply online.

“If people can go and file online, that’s the most secure way of doing it, the most efficient way of doing it. It prompts you through the process and it’s fairly simple, Murakami said.

There’s a video that describes the process step-by-step on the unemployment website.

The first thing you need to do is create an account.

To file a claim, make sure you have your employment history for the past 18 months, your employers name and address, and the reason you’re seeking unemployment.

You also need your bank’s routing number and your checking or saving’s account number.

“If you have challenges with it, you get stuck along the way, you are more than welcome to call our office.”

Murakami said there is no longer a one week waiting period to receive benefits so people can get relief faster.

The federal government is working to help offset the economic uncertainty.

Senator Brian Schatz is pushing for measures that would make contractors and people who are self employed eligible for unemployment assistance as part of his Coronavirus Worker Relief Act, which expands the current disaster unemployment assistance program.

Although contractors and self-employed people generally aren’t eligible to claim unemployment because they don’t fit under the current definition, Murakami said it doesn’t hurt for those people to apply.

Senator Mazie Hirono says more help is on the way in the form of the Families First Coronavirus Act.

“It has paid leave, it has food assistance it has unemployment insurance and the whole idea is that we need to make sure that the people who are being laid off or people who are sick are being taken care of. This house bill goes to allow that,” Hirono said.

“That would definitely help if this situation were to go beyond an extended period of time our hope is that doesn’t happen,” Murakami said.

Murakami said they are doing everything they can to make the process go as smoothly as possible.

“We moved our staff, to the extent that we can, from doing other things to focusing processing claims. We’ve made claims processing and servicing the community our top priority for the unemployment insurance division.”