Boone County learned of its second and third cases of coronavirus Thursday as the state count increased to 28 and pallet-loads of protective gear arrived at the State Emergency Management Agency warehouse in Jefferson City.


A news release issued by the city of Columbia stated the two patients are in their 60s and 70s and their cases are related to out-of-state contact with a positive case.


The new cases were reported the day after both University of Missouri Health Care and Boone Hospital Center opened up drive-thru testing to heavy demand.


The first case of COVID-19 was reported Tuesday in Boone County and that person, who was in their 60s and had returned from a trip abroad, died Wednesday afternoon.


University of Missouri System President Mun Choi on Thursday ordered all university employees to work from home or take leave unless directed to come to work by a supervisor, at least until April 13.


"As we continue to watch the COVID-19 crisis unfold, new developments — and our subsequent decisions — are occurring on an hour-by-hour basis," Choi wrote in an email to all university addresses. "While we have taken many actions to help prevent the spread of the disease, we must do more."


The number of coronavirus cases in the U.S. continued to surge during the day Thursday. Since the outbreak arrived in the country on Jan. 20, 13,159 people have been confirmed to have been infected and 176 have died. Worldwide, there were more than 242,000 cases with almost 10,000 deaths blamed on the virus.


During his daily news conference at his Jefferson City office, monitored via Facebook, Gov. Mike Parson defended his decision not to order a complete shutdown of most businesses and schools in the state.


"Making a decision like that is much easier said than done," Parson said. "And to be right honest about it, I don’t think it is the right thing to do at this time."


Leaders from three St. Louis-area counties — St. Charles, Jefferson and Franklin — said they are limiting gatherings to 10 or fewer. During an afternoon news conference, Parson encouraged, but did not require, that gatherings be limited to 10 for at least two weeks.


The needs of rural Missouri are different than those of urban areas, he said. Many communities lack child care needed if he orders schools to close and small businesses could be fatally damaged by losses if they close.


"The last thing we want is for small business to not be able to open their doors because we mandated them to close early," Parson said.


Parson's administration rolled out a series of temporary changes to the state's social safety net rules to help people struggling because of the virus, including waiving work requirements for food stamps for able-bodied adults without dependents for 90 days.


The state also won't kick people off Medicaid health care, extended child-care subsides, and asked the federal government to allow Missouri to further relax rules on access to food stamps.


In Columbia, the city and county government took additional steps in response to the threat of the virus.


The city, which has already postponed all municipal court cases, suspended parking enforcement downtown to reduce the future caseload. The move will also assist downtown restaurants that want to provide curbside service after the city issued orders limiting the number of customers who can be in any service business.


The county is restricting access to the Roger Wilson County Government Center to the west entrance and the use of temporary first-floor offices for departments located on upper floors. The county is encouraging as many people as possible to use online services.


Many county government employees have been directed to remain at home and the government center will have minimal staffing, according to a county news release.


State government also took additional steps to limit the exposure of employees. The state Job Center on Park De Ville Drive will be closed to in-person services, as will all state job centers, and the Division of State Parks, following the lead of the Missouri Department of Conservation, has closed visitor centers.


With hospitals, first responders and other providers clamoring for additional protective equipment, Department of Public Safety Director Sandy Karsten on Thursday said the state had received several pallets of gear and will distribute it soon to the 44 emergency medical agencies and 27 hospitals that have requested it.


More will be coming and the law enforcement and fire agencies that have asked for gear should receive it after it arrives next week, she said.


At the university, Choi wrote that exceptions to the directive to stay home will be made only in rare instances. He excepted employees of MU Health Care and the School of Medicine who are supporting direct patient care operations.


Buildings will be secure, but students who have no other options will be allowed to stay in their residence halls and will be provided meal service, Choi wrote.


The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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