Gov. Mike Parson on Thursday ordered all public and charter schools in the state to remain closed for the rest of the school year on a day where Missouri’s virus totals continued to rise.
In a message on Twitter, he said he made the decision in consultation with state education officials and several superintendents.
Michelle Baumstark, spokeswoman for Columbia Public Schools, said the district was positioned to deliver alternative methods of instruction for the rest of the school year.
Staying out for the rest of the school year already was a consideration, she said.
“We’re making our plans,” Baumstark said. “That’s why we made the adjustments.”
In a letter sent to families Thursday afternoon, Baumstark said, “While we had hoped we might be able to return this year, it is in the best interest of public health and safety that we remain closed.”
State data showed more than 3,500 people had tested positive for the novel coronavirus as of Thursday afternoon, 213 more than were reported yesterday.
The data also included 19 newly recorded deaths, bringing the overall total to 77. The newly reported deaths came from Buchanan, Greene, Jackson, Jefferson, St. Louis and Taney counties.
As usual, the state tally updated at 2 p.m. lagged behind reporting by some of the state's counties, making day-to-day comparisons somewhat fuzzy.
For example, state data showed St. Louis County had 15 deaths Wednesday and 28 deaths Thursday, suggesting a daily increase of 13.
But St. Louis County was reporting 24 total deaths Monday, meaning the daily increase indicated by state data is likely inaccurate.
The totals also may not reflect the full number of people who have contracted the disease because some may not have had symptoms or have not been tested. Notably, the data does not include the number of people who have recovered from the disease statewide.
However, taken at face value, the data suggest the spread of the virus is slowing, a likely effect of social distancing and strict stay-at-home rules in many parts of the state.
The differences between state totals day-to-day this week are fractions of what they were last month.
Local data in Springfield's Greene County has indicated similar progress in slowing the spread of the disease.
If the number of infections here would have grown as originally projected, around 200 people would have first seen symptoms by March 29, officials said. Instead, the county reported fewer than 70 people were symptomatic at that point.
Officials at the state and local levels have urged people to continue observing stay-at-home orders and social distancing to keep the progress going.
Another 91,000 people filed new claims for unemployment benefits in Missouri last week as parts of the economy remained shuttered amid the coronavirus pandemic.
That brings the total for the past three weeks to nearly 240,000 claims, roughly 60,000 more than the state received in all of 2019.
The claims stand in stark contrast to the 3,976 filed in the week that ended March 14, and have effectively swamped the Department of Labor's unemployment office with tens of thousands of calls for help each week.
The off-the-charts numbers emerge as broad swaths of the economy continue to be shut down by the novel coronavirus, especially in hospitality and retail sectors that have employed millions across the country but rely on in-person service.
Congress's decision to boost unemployment benefits by $600 per week and extend them to self-employed and contract workers usually ineligible are likely also playing a part in the high numbers.
Nationally, another 6.6 million people filed for benefits last week, a slight decline from roughly 6.86 million the week before, the highest one-week total on record.
The record before the crisis was 695,000 weekly applications in October 1982 and first eclipsed by the 3.3 million claims in the week that ended March 21.
Those numbers mean around 16.7 million have sought benefits in past three weeks, more than double the 8.8 million who had lost jobs at the worst point in the Great Recession.
Overall, the state data continued to indicate the most serious outbreak has taken place in the St. Louis County with 1,393 total cases, up about 7 percent from the day before.
The city of St. Louis had 498, a day-to-day increase of 12 percent.
On the other side of the state, Kansas City had 257, up 3.21 percent, and Jackson County outside the city had 177, up 6 percent.
Boone County added no cases Thursday; its case count remained at 72, with eight active cases. Audrain County remained free of confirmed cases, while Callaway County’s count was at 22 and Cole County’s 25. Springfield’s Greene County had 71, up one from the previous day's number.
Separate data compiled by the Missouri Hospital Association from 117 of 154 possible hospitals showed 568 COVID-19 patients hospitalized as of Thursday morning, a 9.4 percent increase over the day before.
Those hospitals also had 419 patients “under investigation” for the virus, a decline of 18.7 percent from the day before.
Roughly 29.7 percent of crucial intensive care beds were available among hospitals surveyed, down from 33.9 percent the day before. More than half of those facilities' potentially lifesaving ventilators remained available.
As of Thursday morning, Boone Hospital Center had no more confirmed positive tests, with its positive number remaining at 16 out of 926 total tests performed. MU Health Care reported Thursday afternoon eight inpatient cases in its system.
Nationwide, there were more than 454,000 cases and more than 16,000 deaths as of 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, according to a database maintained by Johns Hopkins University.
Worldwide, there were more than 1.4 million cases and more than 87,000 deaths.
Gabriela Velasquez and Roger McKinney of the Columbia Daily tribune contributed to this report.