HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut Labor Commissioner Kurt Westby announced his retirement Thursday after leading the department's response to a major spike in unemployment claims during the pandemic.

Gov. Ned Lamont said Westby, who has served as commissioner for five years, will leave his post at the end of the month and will be replaced by Danté Bartolomeo, who currently serves as the agency’s deputy commissioner.

The Labor Department saw unemployment claims rise from about 40,000 during a typical week, to 400,000 per week during May 2020, Bartolomeo said. It is still seeing about 178,000 filers per week, she said.

The Department set up a special call center to deal with the volume and has since modernized its system to drastically reduce delays, Westby said.

Westby “led a team that got $8.5 billion in unemployment benefits disbursed across six programs – some of which were established only weeks prior,” Lamont said. “He has my utmost respect and I wish him the very best in his well-deserved retirement.”

Bartolomeo is a former state senator from Meriden. She has served in her current position since January 2019.

Lamont said she will serve as interim commissioner while awaiting confirmation from the General Assembly.