Missouri on Thursday reported an increase of more than 1,500 confirmed COVID—19 cases and the highest number of hospitalizations for confirmed or suspected cases since the pandemic began.

JEFFERSON CITY — Missouri on Thursday reported an increase of more than 1,500 confirmed COVID—19 cases and the highest number of hospitalizations for confirmed or suspected cases since the pandemic began. 

Data from the Missouri Department of Health and Human Services showed a total of 137,156 confirmed cases and 2,259 deaths since March. That was 1,505 more cases and 23 more deaths than reported Wednesday.

The department also reported 1,344 Missourians were hospitalized with confirmed or suspected COVID--19 cases on Wednesday — up from 1,241 the previous day. The state averaged 1,204.9 hospitalizations in the previous seven days. 

Missouri Hospital Association spokesman David Dillon said the nearly monthlong trend of spiking hospitalizations is troubling, and he noted that many people getting care in regional hubs such as Springfield are from smaller towns around those hubs.

"This is clearly moving through the communities, especially rural communities, and they have less capacity to treat it locally," Dillon said.

State health department spokeswoman Lisa Cox said that while hospitalizations are up, the state continues to have a sufficient supply of ventilators and available intensive care unit space.

Also Thursday, the state labor department reported initial unemployment claims rose last week after falling steadily in the previous three weeks. The department said 8,797 Missourians applied for unemployment assistance, up more than 1,400 from the week before.

The number of claims had been dropping since reaching 10,857 for the week ending Sept. 5. The state's unemployment rate remains at 7%, below the national average of 8.4%.