The number of positive COVID-19 cases in Missouri has risen to more than 500, Gov. Mike Parson announced Thursday, with a significant portion of them being people between 20 and 29.
The demographic with the greatest number of positive cases is people ages 50-59, with almost 23% of reported cases falling in that age range. The second highest group is people age 20-29, which make up 17.5% of reported cases.
“This shows that it doesn’t matter how old you are, you’re still at risk, and we need everyone to take this seriously,” Parson said.
In Boone County, the number of positive cases had risen to 37 by 5 p.m. Thursday, according to the City of Columbia. There were 14 cases among people 45 to 64, 14 among people 25 to 44, six among those 15 to 24 and three among those 65 or older.
Also Thursday, state officials announced they are waiving some requirements for receiving unemployment benefits in an effort to respond to a more than 900% increase in claims during the coronavirus pandemic.
Federal unemployment data released Thursday showed 40,508 Missourians filed initial unemployment claims for the week ending March 21, compared to 4,016 the previous week. That came as a record number of Americans applied for unemployment benefits last week because of layoffs caused by the pandemic.
Missouri will temporarily waive its one-week waiting period and a requirement that people seeking unemployment benefits make at least three attempts to find work each week, the state said.
On Thursday the Trump administration approved a portion of Parson’s request for a federal major disaster declaration for Missouri. The approval allows the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Public Assistance Program to be used to reimburse eligible expenditures made by local governments, nonprofit organizations, and the state for emergency protective measures by first responders and others.
Portions of the request still being reviewed include Parson’s request for federal Disaster Unemployment Assistance and Crisis Counseling, and a request for federal hazard mitigation assistance to identify and reduce long-term risks associated with natural disasters.
During the governor’s news conference, he was joined by Patrick McKenna, the director of the Missouri Department of Transportation, and Mark Stringer, the director of the Missouri Department of Mental Health.
McKenna said several regulations related to transportation in the state have been relaxed in response to COVID-19, including changing the hours of operation for motor carriers and allowing trucks carrying emergency supplies and equipment to carry heavier loads on all Missouri highways, including interstates.
Additionally, MoDOT is working to make sure that interstate highway rest areas remain open to the public by cleaning and disinfecting them on a regular basis, McKenna said. The design and construction of Missouri road and bridge projects will also continue.
McKenna also said statewide highway maintenance operations, including patching potholes, striping and pavement repair will go on “at present” so long as social distancing and hand-washing guidelines are followed.
Missouri Department of Mental Health Director Mark Stringer described steps his department is taking in response to COVID-19, including making it possible for community providers to do their work via telephone and working to make sure those without telephones are able to stay in contact with their providers.
However, last week the Missourian reported that department employees were told to still come into work, even if they live with someone who had potentially been exposed to the virus. That policy has since been revised.
Randall Williams, the director of the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, also provided new details about COVID-19 testing in the state.
Williams said the state has changed its regulations, and is now tracking negative test results as well as positive ones. Williams said more than 6,000 tests have been conducted in Missouri, and that about 8% of tests conducted at the state lab came back positive, versus 6-8% at commercial labs.
Williams said the state is using age and location data to model COVID-19 clusters.
“If you look at our data, it’s 20 and 30-year-olds that appear to be people who are testing positive, and so I think our message has been very, very consistent that while they may not have the morbidity, what we’re learning is they certainly may be propelling the infections,” Williams said.
Parson said he has not changed his mind about not implementing a statewide stay-at-home order and discussed orders already implemented by mayors in urban areas where most of the cases are.
“It’s a matter of staying home if you don’t have to be out,” Parson said.
Kansas City, St. Louis, St. Louis County and Boone County are all operating under “stay-at-home” orders as of Thursday.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.