As unemployment grows, so has demand at Phoenix-area food banks

Some food banks in the Phoenix metro area are reporting a huge increase of people seeking sustenance as unemployment claims continue to grow because of the coronavirus pandemic.

St. Mary’s Food Bank served 1,250 people at its largest Phoenix facility on March 23. That compares with 495 on March 16. The facility had never before served 1,200 people in one day outside of the holiday season.

On Tuesday, hours before a stay at home order issued by Gov. Doug Ducey took effect, there was a rush to the food bank, with long lines of people and cars backed up.

"We designed this so that we wouldn't have a full parking lot," said Jerry Brown with St. Mary's Food Bank. "We have a full parking lot today because we're just so overrun with the amount of people. A lot of people assume that St. Mary's might be one of those places that closes."

United Food Bank reports serving more people right now than it normally does on Thanksgiving and Christmas. The facility distributed food to an estimated 2,000 households last Friday at the Mesa Convention Center.

Both St. Mary's and United Food Banks normally feed about 500 families a weel.

"We're seeing more people in three or four hours than we're seeing in a whole day," said Brown. "If you need food and you need it in three days, we will be here in three days, and we will be here in a week. We will be here as long as we can hand out food. We're still OK on food."

Nearly 89,000 people applied for unemployment benefits last week, up from 29,000 a week before and way up from about 3,500 a week before the coronavirus health crisis.

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Symptoms for coronavirus COVID-19 include fever, coughing, and shortness of breath. These, of course, are similar to the common cold and flu. 

Expect a common cold to start out with a sore or scratchy throat, cough, runny and/or stuffy nose. Flu symptoms are more intense and usually come on suddenly, and can include a high fever. 

Symptoms of COVID-19 may appear more slowly. They usually include fever, a dry cough and noticeable shortness of breath, according to the World Health Organization. A minority of cases develop pneumonia, and the disease is especially worrisome for the elderly and those with other medical problems such as high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes or heart conditions.

RELATED: Is it the flu, a cold or COVID-19? Different viruses present similar symptoms

Right now there's one big difference between flu and coronavirus: A vaccine exists to help prevent the flu and it's not too late to get it. It won't protect you from catching the coronavirus, but may put you in a better position to fight it.

To protect yourself, wash your hands well and often, keep them away from your face, and avoid crowds and standing close to people.

And if you do find yourself showing any of these flu or coronavirus symptoms - don't go straight to your doctor's office. That just risks making more people sick, officials urge. Call ahead, and ask if you need to be seen and where.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.