Following a week when the number of jobless claims multiplied tenfold, the daily report of COVID-19 cases in Missouri also showed a strong surge Thursday.


The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services reported 502 cases of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus that emerged late last year, an increase of 146 over Wednesday. The disease is now present in 43 of the state's 116 local health department jurisdictions.


Boone County reported an additional 13 cases on Thursday, bringing the total in the county to 37.


So far, there have been eight deaths in Missouri.


And nationally, the United States now has the most cases worldwide in the pandemic.


The majority of the Missouri cases are in the state's largest metropolitan areas. The state health agency reported that St. Louis County now has 173 confirmed infections, followed by Kansas City with 64, St. Louis with 57 and Jackson County outside Kansas City with 31. Greene County, in southwest Missouri, has 25.


In central Missouri, cases have been reported in Callaway, with two, Cole, with eight, and Cooper and Randolph counties, with one each.


Despite the second consecutive day with a 20 percent rise in known infections, Gov. Mike Parson continued to insist at his daily briefing that the state does not need a blanket stay-at-home order.


He evaluates every day, he said, whether his restrictions on gatherings to 10 or fewer or the social-distancing rules that have closed restaurants to dine-in customers are enough.


Boone County and the other heavily populated counties in the state have already taken that step, Parson noted.


"The mayors are doing their jobs out there too," he said. "They have already got a lot of orders in the urban areas where the most cases are."


President Donald Trump on Thursday approved Parson’s request to declare Missouri a major disaster area for the purposes of providing aid to state and local government and not-for-profit agencies. Trump is still considering whether to extend that order to provide help for individuals.


Parson noted that a large share, 88, of the state’s 502 cases are among people 20 to 29 years of age.


"This shows that it doesn’t matter how old you are, you are still at risk," he said. "And we need everyone to take this seriously."


Parson said he can’t order a change in test criteria, which requires a person to show symptoms, because of a shortage of testing supplies. He can’t even order it for nursing homes where there are known cases.


"I would be willing to change that if it was possible to do," he said. "But I know every day there is shortage of the test kits that are out there."


Data released late Thursday showed 42,207 Missourians filed initial unemployment claims for the week ending March 21, compared to 3,976 the previous week.


Nationally, there were more than 3.3 million new claims for unemployment compensation filed in the past week and Missouri was no exception.


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.


The data is just the first of what are expected to be weeks of dismal job reports. The hotel industry alone in Missouri is estimated to have lost 17,000 jobs already, with another 50,000 at stake.


Tracy Kimberlin, president and CEO of the Springfield Convention & Visitors Bureau, told the Springfield News-Leader that the estimate was off.


"I think they’re low numbers," Kimberlin said. "There are roughly 20,000 people working in Greene County in the hospitality and entertainment field."


The growing caseload has authorities around the state taking steps to protect health care workers and reduce the potential exposure in jails and among vulnerable groups.


MU Health has established housing where health care workers can quarantine themselves if they don't want to stay at home and infect family members, Dr. Stephan Keithahn said. He said he doesn't know if it's being used.


"That's up and running now," he said of the off-campus housing.


A child care center for hospital workers whose children are home from school has also been set up, he said.


MU Health is being very thoughtful in deploying personal protective equipment.


"We all need to take this very seriously," Keithahn said. "The stay-at-home mandate from our city and county government is very important in flattening the curve."


The pandemic represents a level three threat at MU Health, the highest level, and it was initiated because of a significant spread of the infection in the community, he said.


Authorities in St. Louis and St. Louis County were finalizing plans Wednesday to immediately release more than 140 inmates from city and county jails as part of efforts to limit the spread of the coronavirus, the Post-Dispatch reported.


In Kansas City, tents were set up east of downtown in a multi-agency effort to ensure the homeless continue to receive services during the pandemic.


"We’re trying to bring them to one centralized area, to assess their needs and give them the assistance they need," said Vincent Morales, co-founder of Veterans Community Project.


Amtrak announced Thursday that it would reduce its service between Kansas City and St. Louis to one trip daily rather than two, starting Monday, because of decline in rider numbers.


Nationally, the increase in the number of COVID-19 cases continued unabated. In less than 24 hours, the number increased more than 25 percent, to 83,836, with more than 1,200 deaths. Worldwide, the novel coronavirus is known to have infected 529,000 people and is blamed for almost 24,000 deaths.


Roger McKinney of the Tribune contributed to this report.


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