Think of it as the calm before the storm.

Maine’s preliminary, seasonally adjusted unemployment rate estimate for February was 3.2 percent, up slightly from 3.1 percent for January and equal to 3.2 percent for February 2019, according to figures released Friday by the state Department of Labor.

However, the state’s unemployment rate is expected to increase dramatically in March as a result of mass layoffs tied to the coronavirus outbreak. Last week alone, nearly 21,500 Mainers applied for unemployment benefits, equivalent to about 3 percent of the state’s total nonfarm payroll workforce.

In February, the total number of unemployed job-seekers in Maine was 22,000, down 200 from a year earlier, the department said. As of February, Maine’s unemployment rate had been below 4 percent for a record 50 consecutive months.

The preliminary estimate for Maine’s total nonfarm payroll jobs in February was 638,300 jobs, up 2,500 jobs from a year earlier, the labor department said.

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