North Carolina's unemployment rate ballooned to just over 12% in April as the state dealt with a coronavirus-related economic slowdown, state officials said Friday.

The rate represents a nearly 8 point increase from the rate in March, which had been around 4 percent. The national rate for April was 14.7%.

The number of people classified as unemployed grew by nearly 360,000, more than doubling the number in March.

The industry hit the hardest was leisure and hospitality, which declined by about 250,000 over the month. Employment in education and health services fell by about 60,000.

The numbers were released as the state prepares to loosen some business restrictions as part of the second phase of a tiered reopening. The changes taking effect Friday will allow restaurants to serve dine-in patrons and barbers and hair salons to cut hair, all under social distancing and cleaning requirements. Some businesses including bars and gyms must remain closed.

On Friday, health officials reported more than 21,600 virus cases statewide, an increase of about 750 from the previous day. There are about 730 deaths and 570 hospitalizations.

Also on Friday, state House Speaker Tim Moore announced a bipartisan bill to increase funding and flexibility for elections officials as they prepare for people to cast votes in the 2020 election season while facing pandemic-related challenges. The bill sponsored by two Republicans and two Democrats reduces the amount of witnesses needed for absentee ballot submissions from two to one, increases means of requesting absentee ballots including an online portal, provides federal funds for in-person voting and increases flexibility for recruiting precinct officials.

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