SALT LAKE CITY — Overall claims for unemployment benefits dropped last week, but the number of new claims continues to rise, according to numbers put out by the Utah Department of Workforce Services Thursday.

Perpetuating a trend seen over the last 22 weeks, continued unemployment claims fell sharply. The agency reported that 40,390 continued claims were filed for the week ending Oct. 3, compared to 44,306 claims reported the week prior.

However, the drop is not solely due to people finding jobs. Because unemployment assistance is granted on a limited-time basis, some people’s benefit may simply be exhausted.

“It’s both,” said Kevin Burt, Unemployment Insurance Division director for the Utah Department of Workforce Services. “We’ve been tracking how many people fell off the benefit for two consecutive weeks. And we kind of said, ‘OK, well of those, how many people exhausted their benefit?’ And the answer for the week that we looked at was 25% were exhausted but 75% simply fell off, hopefully with returning to work.”

Burt said he is not aware of any plans to further extend unemployment benefits.

While overall numbers dropped, new unemployment claims continue to rise slightly from week to week, with 4,574 new claims filed for the week ending Oct. 3 and 4,458 reported the week before.

“Forty-five-hundred, again, is down compared to the historic highs that we saw in early April, where we had one week of 33,000 claims,” Burt said. “But for historical context, during the Great Recession, which was in 2009, the most claims that we received in a single week was around 5,000.”

Accordingly, both continued and new claims are well above 2019 averages, showing that the COVID-19 pandemic is still impacting many Utahns.

“New claims for unemployment benefits remain high and have remained at fairly constant level for the last several weeks,” Burt said. “The department does expect new claims to increase over the next few months due to the seasonal workforce in the state of Utah; however, it is also clear the pandemic continues to be disruptive to employment.”

After government officials failed to extend additional federal aid to airlines in the past weeks, another spike in unemployment is possible.

“Yes, we probably will see and experience a spike in claims,” Burt said. “When a large industry experiences a mass amount of layoff, it does result in a significant number of claims.”

However, if airlines have already furloughed their workers, then many have likely already applied for unemployment assistance, and the number of claims may not increase dramatically.

As certain industries — such as airlines — struggle during the pandemic and experience layoffs, others are in need of more employees, said Nate McDonald, communication director at the Utah Department of Workforce Services.

To help match workers to jobs, the department has opened a “hot jobs” portal, which can be found at jobs.utah.gov.

McDonald identified the health, finance and banking, advanced manufacturing, retail, warehouse and distribution industries as “hot” fields that are currently looking to hire.

“There are jobs available right now. We recognize, though, that this may be challenging for individuals where their industry has not bounced back yet. And there’s been a significant hit to their previous employment,” he said. “You might have to start looking in a new field, in a new area, in a new industry … That’s better than being unemployed with no benefit.”

McDonald also mentioned that the Utah Labor Commission, with Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funding, is administering a grant program that will reimburse small businesses for employee salary if workers have to go through the quarantine process.

More information can be found at coronavirus.utah.gov/business.