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Cody Delmendo of Grayslake said he and his girlfriend, Cassidy O'Brien, were in Mexico last week as Illinois schools, restaurants and bars all were ordered to close by Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker amid the COVID-19 outbreak.
The trip, which the couple had planned months ago, came after O'Brien recently was laid off before the coronavirus hit the state hard.
Delmendo said the thought was that he and O'Brien, 26, would take the vacation with O'Brien's family, and O'Brien would apply for unemployment when they returned to Illinois.
As the COVID-19 updates from Illinois state officials kept coming, Delmendo, 28, said higher-ups at his former Lincolnshire-based company, Camping World – where Delmendo was a social media coordinator – had told employees via email that the company will be fine despite coronavirus outbreak concerns.
He said Marcus Lemonis, the company's CEO, reassured employees in an email March 15 that the company will work with employees on attendance and remote work. The email said management remained committed to protecting its employees, and the business would not let the recent events put anyone in a difficult financial situation.
But on Wednesday, Delmendo said he got the news from the company's upper management: He had been laid off because of necessary company downsizing due to the coronavirus.
“I was in such shock that I just didn’t know what to say,” Delmendo said.
He said he asked his former employer if the company could hire him back once everything COVID-19 related blows over and returns to normal.
Delmendo said he was told by management that he possibly could get his job back at a later date, but it's not a guarantee.
Within an hour of getting the news, Delmendo said he was one of thousands of Illinoisans who filed for unemployment benefits after closure orders from Pritzker.
More than 64,000 Illinois residents submitted requests for unemployment benefits to the Illinois Department of Employment Security from Monday through Wednesday, an almost tenfold increase compared with what's normal for this time of year.
Unemployment claims across the country spiked this week in conjunction with several states closing down bars and forcing restaurants to try to make their businesses work as takeout and delivery only.
Pritzker ordered all restaurants and bars in the state to close starting Monday in an effort to help slow the spread of COVID-19. On Friday, Pritzker announced a shelter-in-place order for the state beginning at 5 p.m. Saturday through April 7.
Rebecca Cisco, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Employment Security, wrote in an email Friday that the agency continues to receive exceptionally high volumes of unemployment benefits claims via the agency's call center and website, where people also can apply for unemployment insurance benefits.
"At this time, as the department continues to work through and meet this increased demand, we are prepared to collate reports with updated unemployment benefits claims data on a weekly basis," Cisco wrote.
According to the agency's website, unemployment benefits are available to people who have been separated from employment through no fault of their own and who meet all eligibility requirements. Those eligibility requirements include being able and available for work, registering with the state employment service and actively seeking work.
A person is considered able to work "if they are mentally and physically capable of performing a job for which a labor market exists," according to the agency's website. That person cannot impose conditions on the acceptance of work if those conditions essentially leave them with no reasonable prospect of work in order to be considered available for work.
Delmendo said he has yet to hear back about whether he is eligible for unemployment benefits through the state. From what it looked like when O'Brien was applying for unemployment, he said, the process will take a while.
"She’s at the point now where all her stuff is processing, and she’s going to hear back in the next nine to 10 days on whether she’s going to get it or not," Delmendo said.
The difference, Delmendo said, is that O'Brien's case had nothing to do with the coronavirus.
“So we’re both in this really bad situation where, honestly, I feel like we don’t deserve this," Delmendo said. "We’re really hardworking individuals, and I don’t really know what to say outside of that.”
Delmendo said the layoff came after he was hoping and trying to move up within the company. He said although getting let go has been disappointing, he holds no animosity toward his former employer, and he's trying to look on the bright side in the meantime: Maybe this was all meant to be, and this might kick his career drive into gear.
“I just wish it would’ve happened when places weren’t closed and people weren’t on hiring freezes," Delmendo said. "The timing just could not possibly be worse."
Delmendo said the reason why he wanted to share his story was because he's aware of so many people in his age group, especially who aren't heeding warnings related to the COVID-19 outbreak. He said he also wishes people would stop blaming national news media for inciting panic about the situation.
"I just lost my job because of that," Delmendo said. "I just wish more people would take it seriously."