COLUMBIA, S.C. — More than 341,000 people have said they lost their jobs in South Carolina since the coronavirus pandemic began.

The 73,000 jobless claims filed for the week ending April 18 was the first drop since businesses began closing for COVID-19 in March, according to figures released Thursday from the state Department of Employment and Workforce.

But all the people reporting they are out of work over the past five weeks represents more than 14% of the workforce in February in South Carolina.

Amid that alarming backdrop, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster is calling his first meeting Thursday of a group he calls “Accelerate South Carolina."

More than two dozen mayors, presidents of institutions of higher learning, business owners and health care professionals and lawmakers are tasked with figuring out how to reopen the state after closing for the coronavirus pandemic.

McMaster said his goal is to have the South Carolina economy humming again by June.

Also this week, lawsuits have been filed in state and federal courts asking judges to require South Carolina to relax rules on absentee voting for the June 9 statewide primaries.

Absentee voters currently must fall under certain requirements like being disabled, unable to get to the polls because of work, out of state or over age 65. Ballots also must be signed by a witness.

The lawsuits said absentee rules don't include isolating from a pandemic, which also could be a problem with the witness requirement.

South Carolina Election Commission Executive Director Marci Andino wrote a letter last month to lawmakers backing no excuse absentee voting.

The governor has said he has no plans to delay the June 9 primaries, but has not given his opinion on expanding absentee or early voting.

The state lawsuit was filed by the South Carolina Democratic Party and the national Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. The federal lawsuit was filed by the American Civil Liberties Union.

More than 4,750 COVID-19 cases and 140 deaths have been reported statewide, according to the Department of Health and Environmental Control’s Wednesday update.

For most people, the coronavirus behind the pandemic causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, it can cause severe illness such as pneumonia, or even death.

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