New jobless claims fell to the lowest levels of the pandemic era, federal data shows, with 684,000 being filed last week.

The previous weekly high was 695,000, set in October 1982.

Initial unemployment claims fell by 97,000, another sign that the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic is easing. An additional 241,745 filed claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, for gig and self-employed workers.

The total number of claims for all types of unemployment benefits was 18.95 million for the week ending March 6, according to Department of Labor data.

The surge in new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations has slowed in recent weeks, though health officials are eyeing states that have removed restrictions on businesses and mask-wearing. The United States has seen a 4 percent rise in new cases in the past week.

But Americans are still holding out hope that increasingly broadened access to the coronavirus vaccines are the key to returning to work, more job availability, and an improved economy. Nearly 14 percent of the U.S. population, or about 46,365,000 people, have completed vaccination….