Another 91,000 file for unemployment in Missouri

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The number of Americans filing for their first week of unemployment benefits suddenly jumped last week to the highest level in more than two years.

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) – An additional 91,000 Missouri residents applied for unemployment last week as the economic toll from the coronavirus grew, the state labor department said Thursday, while a health official disclosed that all 12 St. Louis residents who have died of COVID-19 were black.

The number of new unemployment claims for the week that ended Tuesday is more than eight times higher than in all of April 2019, when close to 10,700 claims were filed. The previous week, more than 104,000 new claims were filed.

Republican Gov. Mike Parson has said Missouri’s Department of Labor and Industrial Relations has hired about 100 more people to help handle a deluge of calls about filing for unemployment. The state is encouraging people to file claims online.

Nearly 238,000 people filed new unemployment benefit claims in Missouri in the first three weeks after the coronavirus crisis began hitting the economy. That’s more than 1 in 12 eligible workers.

Johns Hopkins University on Thursday said the state had 3,432 cases and 93 deaths. State health officials had reported 3,327 cases of COVID-19 and 58 deaths as Wednesday afternoon. Missouri’s health director says the state takes time to vet each reported death before adding it to its official count.

Dr. Frederick Echols, head of the St. Louis Health Department, issued a plea Thursday to African Americans to take precautions against the disease.

Echols said in an editorial published in the St. Louis American, a newspaper that covers the city’s black community, that all 12 victims in St. Louis as of Wednesday were black. Blacks make up about 46% of the city’s population, according to census figures.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. But Echols noted black people are already disproportionately affected by some preexisting conditions that make the coronavirus more dangerous, such as heart conditions and diabetes. Older people and those with health problems are more susceptible to severe illness and death.

St. Louis has not published a racial breakdown of those who have tested positive for the virus, but city officials plan to release more data this week, said mayoral spokesman Jacob Long.

On Wednesday, Randall Williams, the state’s health director, directed medical professionals across the state to provide racial data about patients who become ill or die from the coronavirus. He said the state hadn’t previously released the data because about 40% of medical providers were not reporting that information.

An AP analysis of U.S. data found that about 42% of the victims whose demographic information was publicly shared by officials were black. African Americans made up roughly 21% of the total population in the areas covered the analysis.

By SUMMER BALLENTINE and MARGARET STAFFORD, Associated Press

Stafford reported from Liberty, Mo.

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