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AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — A Maine company that’s one of two major producers of COVID-19 testing swabs has extended a furlough for 180 employees.

The three-week furlough extension at Puritan Medical Products' manufacturing plant in Pittston was announced Thursday as the company works to finalize orders from the federal government for additional products.

The workers were sent home in June when the production of swabs outpaced demand as the number of virus cases declined in the U.S.

The announcement came as Abbott Laboratories laid off about 400 workers in Westbrook and Scarborough over a drop in demand for the company’s instant tests for COVID-19.

Puritan expects to recall the furloughed workers in August.

“Everything about this last year was unprecedented and unpredictable, including the current furlough. Each employee who has worked at Puritan over the past year is a hero,” the company said.

In other pandemic-related news:


UNEMPLOYMENT CLAIMS

Continued claims for unemployment are declining in Maine as the state's economy continues to reopen.

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The Maine Department of Labor said overall continued claims filed each week were down roughly 1,350 during the week that ended July 3. The department said about 9,400 continued claims were filed for state unemployment during that week.

The state handled another 9,900 weekly certifications filed under pandemic unemployment assistance, and about 15,000 weekly certifications for the federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program.

The department said it has paid more than $2.3 billion in state and federal unemployment benefits since the start of the pandemic. About $1.7 billion of that figure was paid through federal programs, the department said.

Maine's unemployment rate for May was 4.7%. That was 1.1 percentage points less than the national rate.


THE NUMBERS

Cases of the virus are declining in Maine as the economy reopens.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Maine did not increase over the past two weeks, going from 24.14 new cases per day on June 23 to 19.57 new cases per day on July 7. The seven-day rolling average of daily deaths in Maine remained the same over the past two weeks. It was 0.29 deaths per day on June 23 and remained at that figure on July 7.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported Friday that there have been more than 69,000 positive cases of the virus and 862 deaths in the state since the start of the pandemic. More than 67% of the state's eligible population is fully vaccinated against coronavirus.

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