Another dismal employment report for Missouri and the nation came Thursday, accompanied by notices that Enterprise Rent-A-Car will lay off more than 2,000 workers in the state.


It was also another bad day for reports of large outbreaks associated with meatpacking plants and prisons. In mass testing of employees of Triumph Foods in St. Joseph, the state discovered more than 90 asymptomatic people out of 700 tests, with more than 1,300 tests yet to be processed, state Health Director Randall Williams said.


And more cases were found at a prison in Southeast Missouri.


Locations planning to reopen their communities by lifting stay-at-home orders at the same time the state stay-at-home order expires Sunday night laid out their new rules on Thursday in Columbia and Springfield.


Meanwhile, Moniteau County in central Missouri, which has the state's fourth-worst infection rate, extended stay-at-home rules for a week and Saline County, which has the worst infection rate, will likely do so on Friday.


There were 54,710 new unemployment claims filed in the week ending Saturday, the Missouri Department of Labor and Industrial Relations reported. That brings the total since mid-March to almost 420,000.


And while the state has been nimble in making federal unemployment benefits that include an extra $600 a week and coverage for workers not normally eligible, the ending of the state stay-at-home order on Sunday could put those payments in jeopardy.


Gov. Mike Parson, in his daily press briefing, said that fear of infection is not enough to refuse to go to a job.


"Employees, if your boss calls you and says you gotta go back to work, you gotta go back to work," Parson said.


The labor department is setting up a portal for employers to report workers who refuse to return so their unemployment payments end.


COVID-19 SITUATION


There were 137 new cases reported Thursday by the Department of Health and Senior Services, up slightly from Wednesday but well below the month-long average of 208 per day. The state has recorded 7,562 COVID-19 cases, all from testing of people with symptoms and a doctor’s order for a test.


There were 11 new deaths reported yesterday, equal to the April average and bringing the state total to 329 since the first death was reported March 18 in Boone County.


Expanded testing is showing that the coronavirus has infected many more people than were previously allowed to obtain a test. Before the state expanded capacity and sent in teams to do thousands of tests at one location, only people showing symptoms were tested.


The mass testing gives state and local health officials a chance to box in the outbreak, Williams said.


“We are sending up a team of contact tracers to work with the local health department in St. Joe (for the Triumph Foods testing) and we will immediately box in and go in,” he said.


A similar mass testing effort is underway in Saline County, which has the state’s worst infection rate. The results of more than 200 tests have not been reported.


And at the Southeast Missouri Correctional Center in Charleston, the Mississippi County Health Department reported that there were now 29 inmates who had tested positive, up from 22 earlier.


Of the new cases reported Thursday, 65 were in the St. Louis metro region while another 35 were in Jackson County and Kansas City.


In the state’ next largest counties, Greene and Boone, there was two additional cases tallied for Greene County, which now has 85 cases, and one in Boone, which has 100 on the state count and 94 in the records of the Columbia-Boone County Department of Public Health and Human Services.



There have been coronavirus infections found in 99 of the state’s 117 local health department jurisdictions and deaths in 33 counties.


REOPENING


In Columbia on Thursday, Mayor Brian Treece outlined the city’s new restrictions following the expiration of the local stay-at-home order Sunday night.


Under the relaxed rules, retail shops, gyms, restaurants, child care services and churches can reopen as long as they follow specific occupancy limits. For locations with less than 10,000 square feet, the limit will be 25% of their rated capacity. For larger locations, the limit will be 10% of their occupancy limit.


Public Health and Human Services director Stephanie Browning said stricter rules could return if infections increase.


“If we see a spike, we have to step backwards, and I think that would be devastating,” she said.


There is no end date on the new Boone County restrictions.


In Springfield, officials laid out a plan for the next 21 days. It allows gatherings of up to 15 people and allows most local businesses to reopen while following physical distancing and occupancy limits outlined by a formula under the order.


Business activity that could "enhance the risk of the spread of communicable disease," such as movie theaters, museums, bowling alleys, indoor religious services, concerts, bars, nightclubs and conference centers will still be required to be closed.


STATE WORKERS


Advocates for Missouri state workers on Thursday called on Gov. Mike Parson to do more to protect employees from the coronavirus.


Union leaders, Democratic state lawmakers and other advocates for worker rights want no-strings-attached premium pay for workers, more N95 masks and the chance for more employees to work from home.


Danny Homan is president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees for Missouri, Kansas and Iowa. He said many workers are getting only cloth face masks at veterans homes and mental health centers where people have tested positive for COVID-19.


“No public employee should have to give up their life to provide the service that is essential to the citizens of Missouri, or any state. Period," Homan said. “Get the PPE equipment to those that need it, and quit calling a stupid cloth mask personal protective equipment.”


Parson, during an afternoon news conference, said directors of each department must make their own evaluations on protective equipment.


“I do know this: If we need to do anything to protect our employees in the state, we’re going to protect our employees in the state," Parson said. "If it’s a matter of supplying PPE and we think that’s the direction to go, we’ll make sure to provide that at the state level.”


The relaxation in Missouri is following the example set by other states as the pandemic nationally shows few signs of abating.


The U.S. had almost 1.07 million total confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Thursday afternoon, an increase of 30,637 in 24 hours and above the daily average for April. The contagion is blamed for 62,870 deaths in the U.S., up 2,395 and also above the daily average for April.


Worldwide, the virus is known to have infected almost 3.25 million people and is blamed for almost 233,00 deaths.


Anna Brugmann of the Tribune and the Associated Press contributed to this report.


rkeller@columbiatribune.com


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