The number of Americans applying for unemployment benefits fell below 1 million for the first time since the pandemic began in March, suggesting the economic recovery is gaining some traction amid a deceleration in coronavirus infections.

Initial jobless claims in regular state programs fell by 228,000 to 963,000 in the week ended Aug. 8, Labor Department data showed Thursday. Continuing claims — the total number of Americans claiming ongoing benefits in state programs _ decreased to 15.5 million in the week ended Aug. 1, the lowest since early April.

Economists were expecting initial claims of 1.1 million and continuing claims of 15.8 million, based on median estimates.