MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development officials said Wednesday that they have assigned the last few thousand undecided unemployment claims to adjudicators.

The agency said that all remaining claims with eligibility problems over 21 days old have now been assigned to adjudicators, who will work to resolve the issues. The department didn't say how many claims adjudicators will have to deal with, but the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported they number about 5,000.

The department has been struggling to resolve a massive backlog of claims since the coronavirus pandemic began and businesses closed or laid off employees. Since the pandemic began the department has processed nearly 8.8 million weekly claims — more than four years' worth of claims in just nine months. As of September, nearly 100,000 Wisconsin residents had pending claims.

Republicans have heaped criticism on Democratic Gov. Tony Evers for months for failing to resolve the problem. Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu told WKOW-TV that shifting cases to adjudicators doesn't mean the issue is solved.

The governor requested DWD Secretary Caleb Frostman's resignation in September and gave the agency over to Deputy Secretary Amy Pechacek. Evers announced Wednesday that he formally appointed Pechacek as department secretary. She said in a statement that the department should be able to resume timely claim approvals next month. But LeMahieu told WKOW that if all Pechacek is doing is moving cases around it will difficult to build a Senate consensus to confirm her.

Department officials didn't immediately respond to messages.

Meanwhile Wednesday, the University of Wisconsin-Madison announced that state health officials have approved vaccinations for frontline university health care workers and others who have direct contact with COVID-19 patients, the coronavirus or coronavirus specimens. University officials said the state hasn't told them yet when UW-Madison will receive doses.

The state Department of Health Services reported 2,755 newly confirmed cases on Wednesday, the highest amount of daily cases since 2,799 cases were confirmed on Dec. 24. Wisconsin has now seen 477,292 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

The disease was a factor in 35 more deaths, pushing the state's overall death toll to 4,818. The survivability ratio remains 99%. The number of people hospitalized dropped slightly Wednesday, from 1,082 to 1,074, according to the Wisconsin Hospital Association. Over the last week, the number of patients hospitalized has dropped by 169.

Dane County officials said they started inoculating paramedics with the Pfizer vaccine on Tuesday.


This story has been updated to correct the day of the week to Wednesday.