TWIN FALLS, Idaho (KLIX)-The latest COVID-19 risk levels for the Magic Valley have been released and all but one county within the regional health district are at a "Critical Risk" category.

The South Central Public Health District (SCPHD) updated the Risk Assessment Level which shows Twin Falls, Gooding, Lincoln, Cassia, Minidoka, Jerome, and Gooding counties are at the red or "Critical Risk" category; Camas County is at a "High Risk" level. Meanwhile, Blaine County was already updated to a "Critical Risk" category earlier in the week based on a different set of criteria from a model by the Harvard Global Health Institute, which the county adopted earlier this month.

SCPHD and a group of city, county, and local hospital leaders held a press conference Thursday afternoon concerning the latest county rankings. All have continued to call on residents to social distance where appropriate, wear masks in public, and practice good hygiene.

A major factor in the assessment is the number of people being cared for with COVID-19 in area hospitals. At this time many in the Magic Valley are at full capacity, as is many facilities reportedly around the state and region. Dr. Josh Kern, with St. Luke's Magic Valley Medical Center, said the hospital is overwhelmed, "We had a new record for over 50 patients with COVID in the hospital today. We are setting records for the number of patients our hospital service is trying to manage. We transferred out patients again last night in our ICU, and again today is on diversion because of not being able to up-staff to the volumes that are needed for the patients." Dr. Kern said two more patients died Wednesday night. Many other hospitals are seeing the same issue, said Dr. Kern, which makes it difficult to send patients to other facilities, "There's not really a cavalry to come, we're it."

Both St. Luke's Magic Valley and Cassia Regional Hospital in Burley, represented by Administrator Ben Smalley, said they've had to change the amount of nursing staff and ask some to put in more hours to meet the demand. Smalley said, "We have not had to seek nurses from outside our hospital at this point, but we've been at capacity several times in the last few days where we didn't have more nurses that we could bring on to help support additional patients." Smalley said they've pulled nurses from within the Intermountain Healthcare system from Salt Lake City, but their availability is coming up short because of a rise in COVID-19 cases in Utah.
Dr. Kern said St. Luke's Magic Valley is starting to look at some general services they'll need to cut back on in the next few days at the hospital, he said the hospital will make a later announcement. As for personal protective equipment and other material resources, officials say at this time it is at adequate levels.

Twin Falls School Superintendent Dr. Brady Dickenson said the Twin Falls School Board on Friday will look at the current community COVID-19 numbers, the number of infections within the schools and other factors and determine if they will stay within a hybrid learning schedule, both in and out of class, or go to a full time out of class on-line approach.

Both SCPHD Board of Health and the Twin Falls City Council this week decided not to implement a mask mandate, saying enforcement would be difficult. Linda Montgomery, SCPHD Board of Health Chair said, "All the communication I've had with elected officials within the city of Jerome, the county of Jerome, they were concerned about the enforcement. Possibly if it comes from the state level there will be some funds and assistance in enforcing it." At the critical risk level, the Health District and or the county and cities could enforce localized stay-at-home orders, close or restrict business, and mandate the use of masks.

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