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Duck hunting on the Snake River in the Southwest region for waterfowl

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'Small, closing window of opportunity': COVID-19 situation in Idaho keeps getting worse

TWIN FALLS — The number of new Magic Valley COVID-19 infections stayed flat this week, but medical leaders warn that if the spread of the virus doesn’t slow major hospitals may have to stop offering more services.

The severity of the situation has spurred a flurry of responses from state and local leaders.

Idaho Gov. Brad Little reinstituted some of the state’s stage 3 restrictions, including limiting indoor gatherings to 50 people or fewer. The South Central Public Health District placed six of the Magic Valley’s counties (all but Blaine and Camas) into the red, critical risk category, indicating significant community spread of COVID-19. Twin Falls City Councilman Shawn Barigar said at Monday’s Council meeting he would like the city to consider a mask mandate next week.

Non-government entities have pushed for action as well. For instance, the College of Southern Idaho Board issued a resolution Wednesday urging local elected officials to impose mask mandates.

Outside of Fairfield in Camas County and all Blaine County municipalities except Carey, no Magic Valley community has instituted a mask mandate, despite repeated pleas from the region’s medical experts.

Throughout much of the pandemic, the Magic Valley has experienced a disproportionate number of COVID-19 cases. During the October surge, the region has accounted for about 20% of the state’s cases, despite having roughly 12% of Idaho’s population.

Dr. Joshua Kern, St. Luke’s vice president of medical affairs for Magic Valley facilities, said during a Tuesday press conference that even though the Twin Falls hospital is already struggling to care for sick COVID-19 patients, the next few weeks will probably bring even more hospitalizations. St. Luke’s Magic Valley Medical Center is already overwhelmed with COVID-19 cases, scrambling to stay adequately staffed and frequently sending patients elsewhere.

On Sunday, the hospital had 58 COVID-19 admissions, a new high. There were 125 people in the hospital overall. The 58 COVID-19 hospitalizations on Sunday made up a fifth of Idaho’s 261 COVID-19 hospitalizations.

COVID-19 has now killed 599 Idahoans, including 90 in the Magic Valley. Forty-six of those deaths have been in Twin Falls County. Lincoln County had its first two COVID-19 deaths last week, including one man in his 30s. There were six Gooding County deaths last week — the county had only had two deaths previously.

Throughout Idaho, the number of new infections has doubled in the last month, from about 3,000 a week in late September to more than 6,000 last week. The Magic Valley has also experienced a doubling of cases in that window, jumping from 550 cases to more than 1,100 cases last week.

By most metrics, the Magic Valley has been hit harder in October than other areas in Idaho. But during Tuesday’s press conference, Boise doctors said if people don’t start wearing masks and slowing the spread, their facilities will likely be overwhelmed the way some of the Magic Valley’s already are.

“We’re experiencing these gigantic increases in disease activity across all of southern Idaho,” said Dr. Jim Souza, St. Luke’s chief medical officer.

Souza said that the Boise hospital’s capacity is eroding. St. Luke’s facilities have seen a 200% increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations during the last three weeks. Intensive care units are operating at 125% of normal volume. And more patients are almost undoubtedly coming.

It’s not just COVID-19. Hospitalizations are up in general, too. Flu season has begun — doctors said it’s extra important to get a flu shot this year. And Souza noted that strokes and heart attacks are up significantly, possibly because of COVID-19, which can give people blood clots and cause other medical issues, but that’s not yet clear.

The biggest problem continues to be staffing. Souza said that St. Luke’s has hired 500 nurses since March. The company has hired traveling nurses. Those additions haven’t been enough.

Medical workers keep catching COVID-19. On Tuesday, St. Luke’s had 108 staff out with confirmed COVID-19, including 70 clinical staff. Almost without exception staff are catching the disease outside of their hospitals, Souza said, adding that many members of the general public continue to neither wear masks nor practice social distancing.

When nurses and doctors get sick and miss work, it places even greater strain on the staff who haven’t been infected, forcing them to work overtime and extra shifts. Everyone’s exhausted, Souza said, noting that health care workers are experiencing intense physical, emotional and psychological stress right now.

As staffing shortages and excessive numbers of patients overwhelm local and state hospitals, medical professionals may have to start making increasingly hard decisions. The Twin Falls hospital has postponed elective surgeries and had been diverting pediatric patients to Boise — those transfers are now on hold because the Boise children’s hospital is full, too.

Kern noted at Monday’s Twin Falls City Council meeting that Utah hospitals are expected to begin rationing care soon — doctors are probably going to have to start triaging patients.

What happens in Utah affects the Magic Valley. We can’t send patients there anymore, Kern said. And while the Twin Falls hospital has been sending patients to Boise, that overflow option is disappearing, too. Boise’s hospitals are filling up.

“We can’t divert out of state,” St. Alphonsus Chief Clinical Officer Dr. Steven Nemerson said during the Tuesday press conference. “We have to develop that capacity in Idaho.”

If COVID-19 cases continue to rise, Idaho hospitals will increasingly pare back their least critical offerings to free up more staff and space for coronavirus patients. Souza said that it’s possible to turn hospitals into full-on COVID-19 units — but that change would come with a heavy price. It’s possible that if we don’t slow the spread, people won’t be able to go to the hospital for a host of non-COVID reasons, Souza said.

If local governments and health districts act and people behave better, we can stop all the state’s hospitals from being overwhelmed, Souza said.

“We know it’s avoidable,” he said. “We’ve seen us drop these curves before with good behavior. ... We still have this small, closing window of opportunity.”

Twin Falls City Councilman Greg Lanting said Monday that his church has had a COVID-19 outbreak, killing one parishioner and sending others to the hospital. He urged everyone to wear a mask.

“Wearing one protects everyone else,” Lanting said. “Please wear a mask. … We need to be helping our community by giving up a little bit of ourselves.”

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Sprucing up the place. Soldier Mountain prepares to open after devastation from Phillips Fire

FAIRFIELD — Wildfires raging around the Magic Valley were a common event this summer and Camas County’s Soldier Mountain Resort felt the burn firsthand.

The Phillips Fire charred a large swath of the ski area, but with optimism and enthusiasm from its new owners and current staff — and lots of hard work — the ski resort is planning to host skiers and riders very close to a traditional opening day, usually in early December.

“Let’s just say that the only thing that isn’t wiped out is the main lodge,” Soldier Mountain General Manager Paul Alden said. “We paid for the place on Thursday and it burned down on Friday. Two of the lifts are gone — the Magic Carpet lift is totally gone — it’s a melted heap of rubbish.”


Jeff Ralph looks for the right size screw to replace slats on a chair from the damaged High Tail Express chairlift Wednesday at Soldier Mountain Resort north of Fairfield. The Phillips Fire burned part of the ski area earlier in the summer of 2020. 

Lift 1 took a lot of flame and heat from the fire, Alden said, but is in the process of being refurbished and will look similar to how it did before the fire. It will have the same towers, but everything else is being upgraded and replaced.

“We had some very major components to replace. The haul rope (steel cable) won’t get here until the first week of December,” Alden said. “The Magic Carpet won’t get here until about December 1st.”

Alden also said the cable that the 125 chairs are suspended from will be new and 1,200 chair slats are being replaced at $11 per slat. The communications line that runs the length of the lift has already been replaced along with an upgrade of the electronics. And all of the towers and lift shacks have been painted.


Painter Jeff Sneed from Tower Painters out of Truckee, California, paints the bull wheel on Bird's Eye chairlift Wednesday at Soldier Mountain Resort north of Fairfield. The Phillips Fire burned part of the ski area earlier in the summer of 2020. 

“We are beginning a serious spruce-up campaign,” Alden said. “We had some other plans in mind having to do with snowmaking, but the snowmaking system has been totally destroyed. But we are looking at this optimistically.”

One hundred percent of the chairs and grips were recently tested for damage on Lift 1 and all passed allowing the resort to replace the slats.

Alden said that going forward, Soldier’s cat-skiing operations will be a greater focal point for the mountain in lieu of the fire’s damage. Due to the ongoing pandemic and restrictions from it, cat-skiing will still be offered, however, single seats will no longer be sold for the 2020-21 season. Alden also said the resort is making a push to have businesses rent the mountain on days the resort is not open to the public — Monday to Wednesday.


Painter Jeff Sneed from Tower Painters out of Truckee, California, paints the bull wheel on Bird's Eye chairlift Wednesday at Soldier Mountain Resort north of Fairfield. The Phillips Fire burned part of the ski area earlier in the summer of 2020. 

“On the days the resort is not open, we are suggesting to say businesses, ‘Why don’t you come rent the whole mountain for your group’?” Alden said.


The magic carpet lift lays burned and destroyed Wednesday at Soldier Mountain Resort north of Fairfield. The Phillips Fire burned a large swath of the ski area and completely destroyed the lift.

The fire opened up the possibility for glade skiing on the lower mountain Alden said. The loss of the stands of trees was sad but the fire burned a lot of undergrowth on the ground.

One last addition to look forward to is a terrain park for the upcoming season, something new to Soldier.

For more information about the upcoming season at Soldier Mountain, visit

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Scholar of the week
Scholar of the week: Burley High School's Clara Gerratt

Nomination from Counselor Dan Bolingbroke

Clara Gerratt is a senior at Burley High School. She is a participant in her school’s clubs including Business Professionals of America (BPA), the National Honors Society, and Leo’s Club, an organization based on service and of which Clara is the president. Clara’s favorite memories of her time in high school include going to the state competitions for Business Professionals of America. She placed fifth and first in two events at state last year and qualified to compete at the National level.

Clara has enjoyed playing tennis at Burley High School the past three years and plans to play again this year.

She is working toward becoming a certified nursing assistant at Cassia Regional Technical Center. She is excited to discover if nursing is the direction she wants to take when choosing her major.

Clara hopes to attend Brigham Young University in Provo next fall and major in the medical field. She is considering many options at this point and hopes to narrow them down before the school year is over.

Clara is a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and earned her Young Women’s Recognition Award and her Honor Bee.

Clara has been playing the piano since she was eight. She absolutely loves playing in her home, but not so much in front of others. However, she will play when asked. Clara learned to play the organ a couple of years ago and as a result, she became one of the organists at church.

Clara has been working on her family’s dairy farms since she was young. She assists her dad (a veterinarian) with a variety of jobs every day during the summer, on weekends and on holidays. Her dad really likes the four-day school week.

Clara loves her family and enjoys spending time with her four brothers and her parents. She loves being able to say that she is her parent’s favorite daughter.

"Clara kept pushing forward in spite of that rocky academic start and ended up being one of my strongest writers last year," her English teacher, Becca Tateoka, said. "Our association continues this year as the Leos Club president. Clara has an inquisitive mind and a warm personality. She's easy to talk to and spend time with."

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Hidden History: Buhl missing person mystery stumps law enforcement

Nine months after a Buhl man disappeared from his home west of town, Twin Falls County Sheriff Frank Kendall dug up a newly poured cement slab in the man’s barn expecting to find his body.

But no trace of Alfred Harkleroad was — or has ever been — found.

Harkleroad went missing Jan. 27, 1916. His family didn’t report his disappearance; rumors circulating among Harkleroad’s neighbors reached Kendall seven months later.

Harkleroad had worked for Buhl merchant George Gorseth, and, sometime after her husband’s disappearance, Mrs. Harkleroad went to Gorseth to claim her husband’s wages. Gorseth refused to turn over the $50 until he saw an order from Harkleroad himself, the Oct. 3, 1916, edition of the Twin Falls Times reported.

A few days later, the missing man’s wife reappeared with an order signed “A. Harkleroad.”

Neighbors began to talk.

Harkleroad was a sociable person with many friends, they said, and never would have left without saying goodbye.

“All spring and summer, the neighbors kept whispering about the supposed mystery,” the Times reported.

When word of Harkleroad’s disappearance eventually reached Kendall, the sheriff quietly began investigating the family. Apparently, Mrs. Harkleroad couldn’t keep her story straight. She told one neighbor her husband was in Colorado; she told another he was in Nevada. Letters mailed to Harkleroad at both addresses were returned.

Mrs. Harkleroad eventually told Kendall that she and her husband had argued over where to hang the family guns. He wanted them hung over the door, but she wouldn’t allow it.

“He said that if he were not permitted to put the guns over the door, he would leave,” Mrs. Harkleroad told the sheriff, according to the Times.

“I kept house a good while before I saw you and can do so again,” Mrs. Harkleroad said she told her husband.

The missing man was her third husband, the Times explained.

The sheriff and his cohort collected pieces of evidence, including the order Mrs. Harkleroad gave Gorseth. The signature on the order looked more like Mrs. Harkleroad’s son Fred Marks’ handwriting, Kendall told the Times.

Mrs. Harkleroad’s 17-year-old daughter, Clara Hargas, told investigators her stepfather and her half-brother had a fight and her stepfather left home because of it.

Marks got wind of the sheriff snooping around and he quickly rode off “toward Wendell,” the Times reported, and he, also, was never seen in the area again.

Kyle Busch celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Cup Series race Wednesday at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas.

Markets react to virus curbs

The Dow Jones Industrial Average sank 943 points Wednesday as surging coronavirus cases forced more shutdown measures in Europe and raised fears of more restrictions in the U.S.

The S&P 500 slid 3.5%, its third straight loss and its biggest drop since June. The benchmark index is already down 5.6% this week, on track for its biggest weekly decline since March. That’s when the market was in the midst of selling off as strict lockdowns around the world choked the economy into recession.

The selling in U.S. markets followed broad declines in Europe, where the French president announced tough measures to slow the virus’ spread and German officials agreed to impose a four-week partial lockdown. The measures may not be as stringent as the shutdown orders that swept the world early this year, but the worry is they could still hit the already weakened global economy.

In the U.S., cases are increasing in just about every state and the number of deaths and hospitalizations due to COVID-19 are on the rise. Even if the most restrictive lockdowns don’t return, investors worry that the worsening pandemic could scare away customers of businesses regardless and sap their profits. The U.S. economy could lose momentum just as prospects for more economic support from Washington have dwindled as Election Day nears.

“Many people had come to believe we were at least stable, and now we’re having a second uptick, which throws potential GDP and everything else up in the air,” said Randy Frederick, vice president of trading and derivatives at Charles Schwab. “I did not expect this level of volatility or this degree of a sell-off.”

The S&P 500 lost 119.65 points to 3,271.03. The Dow lost 943.24 points, or 3.4%, to 26,519.95. The Nasdaq composite slumped 426.48 points, or 3.7%, to 11,004.87. The selling was widespread, and 96% of stocks in the S&P 500 fell.

Crude oil tumbled on worries that an economy already weakened by the virus would consume even less energy and allow excess supplies to build higher. Benchmark U.S. crude dropped 5.7% to $37.39 per barrel. Brent crude, the international standard, fell 5.4% to $39.12 per barrel.

Instead, investors headed into the safety of U.S. government bonds. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 0.77% from 0.79% late Tuesday. It was as high as 0.87% last week.

A measure of fear in the stock market touched its highest level since June, when the market suddenly tumbled amid concerns that a “second wave” of coronavirus infections had arrived. The VIX measures how much volatility investors expect from the S&P 500, and it climbed 20.8% Wednesday.

The new wave of lockdowns and business closings swept across France, Germany and other places in Europe on Wednesday as surging coronavirus infections there and in the U.S. wipe out months of progress against the scourge on two continents.

French President Emmanuel Macron declared a new nationwide lockdown starting Friday, saying the country has been “overpowered by a second wave.” Many doctors had urged the move, given that 58% of the nation’s intensive care units are now taken up by COVID-19 patients.

In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel announced a four-week shutdown of bars, restaurants and theaters. “We must act, and now, to avoid an acute national health emergency,” she said.

Countries such as Switzerland, Italy, Bulgaria and Greece have closed or otherwise clamped down again on nightspots and imposed other restrictions such as curfews and mandatory mask-wearing. Madrid and other parts of Spain banned all but essential travel in and out of their regions.

“We are deep in the second wave,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said. “I think that this year’s Christmas will be a different Christmas.”

In the U.S., where practically every state is seeing a rise in cases, Democratic Gov. Tony Evers of hard-hit Wisconsin has been reduced to pleading with people to stay home, after an order he issued in the spring was overturned by the courts. Illinois’ governor banned indoor dining and drinking in Chicago this week. Other states are likewise considering reimposing restrictions.

The virus has killed more than 250,000 people in Europe and over 227,000 in the U.S., according to the count kept by Johns Hopkins University.

The long-feared surge is blamed in part on growing disregard for social distancing and mask-wearing, as well as the onset of cold weather, which is forcing people indoors, where the virus can spread more easily.

In the U.S., more than 71,000 people a day are testing positive on average, up from 51,000 two weeks ago. Cases are on the rise in all but two states, Hawaii and Delaware, and deaths are climbing in 39 states, with an average of 805 people dying in the U.S. per day, up from 714 two weeks ago.

In other developments:

  • The U.S. Justice Department vastly expanded an inquiry Wednesday that could determine whether New York is undercounting coronavirus deaths among nursing home residents, demanding detailed data from hundreds of private facilities.
  • Melbourne, Australia’s pandemic lockdo

wn is being largely lifted on Wednesday after 111 days. According to the Victoria state government, the lockdown changes will allow 6,200 retail stores, 5,800 cafés and restaurants, 1,000 beauty salons and 800 pubs to reopen, impacting 180,000 jobs.