Cases of COVID-19 jumped exponentially Tuesday in Audrain County after the county health department confirmed 11 new cases.


Nine were were traced to hog farms in Thompson and Paris, which adds to the four cases confirmed Monday by the Audrain County Health Department.


All active case patients are under quarantine. This brings the county’s total cases to 17, with 16 active.


This is the biggest jump in cases in the county to date. The first case was confirmed April 18. That patient has recovered. The second case was confirmed May 9 and still is active.


The news comes as Director Stephanie Browning of the Columbia-Boone County Department of Health and Human Services has begun describing how current limits on gatherings and business will be eased starting May 26.


Browning told the Columbia City Council on Monday night that the situation in nearby counties will be an important factor in her decision, along with the number of new cases in Boone County.


During a Tuesday presentation about a new online data portal for Boone County, Assistant Director Scott McLardy showed how it tracks cases in 28 counties that feed into University of Missouri Hospital and Boone Hospital Center.


Among those counties, he said, the health department is tracking Saline County, with 200 new cases in the past month, Pettis County, with 53 in the same period, and Moniteau counties south of the Missouri River and Adair County, with 18 cases in the past week, and Sullivan County, with nearly three dozen in that time.


Audrain will likely join that list.


“This could impact the availability of hospital space and hospital resources in Boone County,” Clardy said. “So we really need to keep an eye on this.”


There were five inpatient COVID-19 cases and 18 inpatients with symptoms being investigated as the disease at MU Hospital on Tuesday afternoon. Boone Hospital had four COVID-19 inpatients.


Six COVID-19 patients are in intensive care and two are on ventilators.


After five cases in two days this week, Boone County reported no new cases of infection on Tuesday. Statewide, the Department of Health and Senior Services recorded an additional 135 cases, bringing the state total to 11,080, and 11 additional deaths, bringing the total to 616.


In an effort to force counties to allow no-excuse absentee voting in upcoming elections, civil rights groups on Tuesday appealed to the Missouri Supreme Court after a local judge dismissed their lawsuit.


The lawsuit was filed in Jefferson City by the ACLU of Missouri and the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition on behalf of the NAACP, the League of Women Voters and several residents. It claims that requiring voters to appear at traditional polling places during the pandemic puts lives at risk.


Cole County Circuit Judge Jon Beetem in a Monday judgment tossed the lawsuit, writing that suit asked for widespread absentee voting for all future elections regardless of whether COVID-19 is still around.


Beetem wrote that the plaintiffs sought "radical and permanent transformation of Missouri voting practices without the authorization of the Legislature."


Wednesday is the last day to request an absentee ballot to vote by mail for the June 2 election. In Boone County, Clerk Brianna Lennon has said those who are afraid of catching the infection can use the reason of being confined at home because of disease to avoid the requirement that the ballot be notarized.


Missouri lawmakers last week sent a bill to Republican Gov. Mike Parson to ensure expanded access to absentee voting.


Under the bill, people considered at-risk of the coronavirus — those age 65 and older, living in a long-term care facility or with certain existing health problems — could vote absentee without needing to have their ballot notarized. Anyone else could cast a mail-in ballot but would need to get it notarized.


"Even with the passage of legislation last week providing for mail voting options, this case presents important issues that will determine whether Missouri voters can safely exercise their fundamental right to vote in 2020, including the ability of voters to cast absentee ballots without a notary," said Denise Lieberman, lawsuit co-counsel and general counsel to the Missouri Voter Protection Coalition.


A spokesman for the Missouri Attorney General's Office, which is fighting the lawsuit, declined comment.


Also on Tuesday, a St. Louis-based health care system announced it's furloughing almost 3,000 employees for eight weeks as it struggles to cope financially with the coronavirus pandemic.


BJC HealthCare spokeswoman June McAllister Fowler in a statement said some of the 2,962 furloughed workers might be able to return to work sooner depending on patient volumes. She said the system will pay medical and dental premiums for employees on furlough.


BJC did not reveal numbers for the impact on Boone Hospital Center, which it operates under a management lease.


The health care system's announcement came the same day a Kansas City hospital confirmed it's treating a second child for a rare inflammatory syndrome that's affecting some children with the coronavirus.


Children's Mercy Kansas City spokeswoman Lisa Augustine in a Tuesday email said one patient has been released and another is still being treated.