As coronavirus cases and hospitalizations related to COVID-19 illnesses spike in south-central Idaho, business and community leaders are raising concerns about the ongoing impacts of the pandemic. 

In a virtual meeting last Thursday hosted by the South Central Public Health District, participants—ranging from medical professionals to elected officials to the head of a Twin Falls-based energy-bar bakery—expressed concerns that seven of the eight counties in the Health District were ranked in the “critical” risk category for coronavirus. Blaine County, in the northern portion of the district, uses its own risk model—separate from that of the district—that indicated Thursday that the county is also at a “critical” risk level. 

Dr. Joshua Kern, vice president of medical affairs for St. Luke’s in the Magic Valley, Jerome and the Wood River Valley, told the panel that the St. Luke’s hospital in Twin Falls is being “overwhelmed” with patients, many of them suffering from COVID-19 illnesses. 

“Our plea from St. Luke’s is that people take action,” he said. 

Suzanne Hawkins, mayor of Twin Falls, stressed the importance of wearing masks and following recommended mitigation measures to slow the spread of the virus. 

“There’s rough choices to be made,” she said. “There’s sacrifices to be made.”

Brady Dickinson, superintendent of the Twin Falls School District, also called for action.

“We’ve got to get our numbers down,” he said. 

Dale Ducommun, general manager of the Clif Bar bakery in Twin Falls, said the ongoing pandemic has affected his employees’ health and has hurt the company financially. 

“It’s hurting our people and it’s hurting our business,” he said. 

Ducommon said Clif Bar has implemented mitigation measures at its facility, noting that evidence suggests that employees who have contracted the virus have done so through “community spread,” not while at work. Some 20 people per day have missed work in October, he said, mostly for reasons related to COVID-19. The financial impact has amounted to about $200,000 so far this year, Ducommon said. 

Only briefly touched on in the meeting was the question of why the Health District board had previously declined to issue a mask mandate for the entire district. District officials maintain that they want the governor to implement a statewide mask mandate. Gov. Brad Little on Monday said he wants to see orders for mask mandates be implemented by local health districts and municipalities. 

Despite those differing views, mask mandates issued by municipalities in the Wood River Valley remain in effect. 

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