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Gov. Stitt Q&A on Trump rally in Tulsa: A venue change? A tour of Greenwood? The danger of COVID?

OKLAHOMA CITY — Gov. Kevin Stitt on Monday said he has asked President Donald Trump to tour the Greenwood District during his visit to Tulsa on Saturday. The governor said it will be an effort to secure federal dollars for a museum dedicated to the area’s history, including the Tulsa Race Massacre.

Stitt also addressed several questions regarding the president’s visit, including a possible venue change, COVID-19 and what precautions to take in large gatherings.

Trump is expected to visit Tulsa on Saturday, after moving the rally back a day. Originally, it had been scheduled for Juneteenth, the annual commemoration of the emancipation of black slaves.

Also on Monday, Vice President Mike Pence tweeted that he would be joining Trump at the rally.

Stitt said officials are looking for an alternative location because so many have requested tickets. According to a tweet by the president, ticket requests are approaching 1 million. The event is currently scheduled for the BOK Center at 7 p.m. Saturday, with doors opening at 3 p.m.

On Monday, Trump told a pool reporter, “we have hot spots as I said you might ... we’ll take care of the hot spots.”

He also said one of the reasons he chose Tulsa was because of Stitt’s work on COVID-19.

Pence said, “they flattened the curve” in the state.

Speaking to reporters in Washington, the president said the convention hall, the Cox Business Convention Center, near the BOK Center in downtown Tulsa will also be used, increasing total capacity to 62,000 for his first campaign rally since early March.

That would mean there would be “over 900,000 people that won’t be able to go, but hopefully they’ll be watching,” Trump said.

“But it’s amazing. No one’s ever heard of numbers like this. We’re going to have a great time. We’re going to talk about our nation. We’re going to talk about where we’re going, where we’ve come from.”

Following a Board of Equalization Board meeting, Stitt fielded questions about Trump’s visit.

Are you at all concerned about Trump coming and a lot of people, crowded, safety concerns, what are your thoughts on that?

Stitt: We are really excited the president is coming. I talked to the vice president on Saturday and actually the president called me today and there are over 1 million requests for his visit, so we are excited that we are being recognized as one of the first states to safely and measurably reopen.

I am looking for a potentially other venue. Maybe we could move it outside. That is still kind of in the works. It is currently at the BOK Center, so we are trying to take every safety precaution possible to make it a safe event.

That is the thing about our society. We are a free society. You are free to come to that event. If you are immune compromised in any way, we suggest you wouldn’t come. You are free to come. You are free to stay home. But we have to learn how to deal with this.

Right now, Oklahoma is in a great position. We have 150 people (with COVID-19) in the hospital across the state of Oklahoma. So, we need to continue to be vigilant and continue to take precautions, but we also have to learn how to deal with COVID.

It is in the United States. It is in Oklahoma. And we can’t let it dictate our lives. We have to go about our lives, but we are going to do it with every precaution possible.

Are you worried about having 1 million people in one spot?

Stitt: Well, I think the president would love to have 1 million people here, but unfortunately we do not have a venue big enough for that in Oklahoma. But it just shows the excitement about him coming to Oklahoma, and we support the president. But sure, we will obviously take every precaution possible to make sure it is a safe event. That is why we are looking for some potential other things.

I was really pleased we moved it to June 20. That was a request we made. So we are really excited to move that to June 20.

You have told people over and over and over, no large crowds. This sort of goes against that. Can you reconcile that?

Stitt: During the beginning when we were really trying to understand this and build PPE (personal protective equipment) and build hospital capacity, we of course wanted to slow down those large crowds. We were following the CDC guidelines.

As of June 1, we are opening back up our economy and loosening some of those guidelines. So, the president coming, we are excited about him being here. We are looking forward to being great hosts.

What about the spikes they are seeing in Tulsa right now?

Stitt: Again, I go back to how many people are in the hospital (with COVID-19) in the state of Oklahoma and it is 150. You are naturally going to see increases in numbers of positive cases because we tested last week 5,000 in one day. We tested close to 300,000 people in Oklahoma at this point so we are going to see those go up. Close to 7,000 positive cases.

But the thing we have to remember as Oklahomans is there are less than 1,000 active cases right now. So again, we are going to be cautious. I am going to be very transparent with the data we show Oklahomans.

We are just testing more asymptomatic people, so we will see more positive cases in the state as we ramp up testing.

But again, we have to watch those hospital capacities. We have to watch that, but we are in really, really good shape from a health care perspective in the state of Oklahoma.

Stitt: I will be at the rally. I will be introducing the president.

Did the president indicate why he chose Oklahoma?

Stitt: The vice president kind of alluded to it more than the president did. They just wanted to showcase Oklahoma as a state that handled COVID correctly, did it the right way.

I am going to be going to the White House on Thursday. I am going to take a small-business, minority business owner with me to the White House with a couple other governors. We are going to have kind of a roundtable with the president and talk about those businesses that were able to continue to operate even during the COVID crisis, so I am looking forward to that on Thursday.

Again, it is just the first of 100 different events he is going to hold. Oklahoma was one of the first states to safely and measurably reopen. I think that is one of the reasons he chose our state.

Do you recommend that people wear masks to this rally?

Stitt: I don’t know what the president’s recommendations are. If people want to wear masks — absolutely. They need to wear masks and come to it. I have been very cautious about mandating masks in public.

If you can maintain social distancing then we are not going to mandate it. But, of course, you are welcome to wear a mask if you feel more comfortable getting out around people — then 100% you need to wear a mask.

A mandate is different than a suggestion?

Stitt: Am I suggesting masks? Sure, if that makes you feel more comfortable. I would think it would be great.

Did you say you had made a request of the Trump campaign to move that date from (June) 19 to the 20?

Stitt: Correct. Yes. We felt like because of the Juneteenth celebration in the African American community and for unity and reconciliation in our state, it would be better to move that off of that date.

We were so thrilled the administration listened not only to us, but I am sure other advisers were telling them the same thing. Now, June 20 is great.

I have personally asked the vice president and the president if they would come with me to the Greenwood District to kind of take a look at that.

Last year, we appropriated $1.5 million for the museum to commemorate the race riots because our 100-year anniversary is going to be next year.

I told the president on the phone this morning. I said would you please come with me to tour that and maybe put some federal dollars to help build that museum. It is the 9/11 architects that did the 9/11 museum in New York who are actually designing that memorial here in Tulsa.

Being from Tulsa, that is very important to Tulsans. It is very important to Oklahomans and really reconciliation in our state.


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Gallery: Tulsa Race Massacre: This is what happened in Tulsa in 1921

Tulsa Race Massacre: This is what happened in Tulsa in 1921

Black Tulsans apprehensive about possible Trump visit to Greenwood

Leaders of Tulsa’s black community say they fear a visit by President Donald Trump to the Greenwood area could erupt into violence, and they don’t want that.

“I share that concern that things could turn very bad, very quickly,” said state Sen. Kevin Matthews, D-Tulsa, whose district includes Greenwood.

“My pastor and the other faith leaders are preaching love, not hate. Be intentional, not emotional,” Matthews said.

On Monday, Gov. Kevin Stitt said he’s invited Trump to tour the Greenwood area while in Tulsa for a Saturday rally at the BOK Center.

Several Greenwood-area residents, speaking on background, said they fear people already on edge about events in Tulsa and nationally could boil over into destructive behavior.

At the least, Matthews pointed out, a visit would likely disrupt Juneteenth activities planned for that day.

The Juneteenth celebration was canceled because of COVID-19 concerns, but festivities were hastily organized in recent days as a counter to Trump’s rally at the BOK Center.

In recent days, local leaders said they’ve heard from people across the nation wanting to send “busloads” of protesters to Tulsa, something they find unsettling. They say they fear Trump setting foot in the historic Greenwood District, including ONEOK Field, could send things spiraling out of control.

Matthews said he relayed those concerns to Stitt on Monday afternoon.

Many Tulsans were upset that Trump originally scheduled his rally for Friday — June 19, historically an important date for black emancipation in the West at the end of the Civil War.

That anger cooled somewhat when the Trump campaign moved the rally back a day, to Saturday, but concerns rose again when Stitt said he’d invited Trump to Greenwood.

“These types of things happen when you don’t have diversity at the table,” Matthews said. “For those who say they didn’t know, or that it wasn’t intentional, it is intentional ... if you didn’t include (black Tulsans) in the discussion.”

Rep. Monroe Nichols, D-Tulsa, said he thinks any recent president, going back more than a quarter of a century, would have been welcomed to Greenwood, but that “President Trump is very different.”

“ ‘Fine people on both sides’ in Charlottesville,” Nichols said. “His birtherism with President (Barack) Obama. These are the kinds of things that make black people uncomfortable,” Nichols said.

Trump says he’s done more for black Americans than any president in history, but not many seem to agree. His refusal to condemn a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that resulted in the death of a counter protester and his insistence that Obama was not born in the United States are two examples of behavior widely condemned by black Americans and many whites as well.

That said, Nichols is less worried about violence if Trump were to visit Greenwood.

“I’m not concerned about that,” he said. “I’d tell people he’s not worth it.”

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Tulsa Race Massacre: This is what happened in Tulsa in 1921

Tulsa Race Massacre: This is what happened in Tulsa in 1921

COVID-19: New cases surge to highest levels yet. As Trump rally approaches, local health official expresses concern

COVID-19 in Tulsa County is surging well beyond its original April peak, disappointing those who hoped the disease might at least stay somewhat under wraps during the summer heat, like the flu or common cold.

Tulsa County’s seven-day rolling average of new cases on Monday more than doubled the peak in April. The county also reported the most new cases on a single day — this amid growing concern about President Donald Trump’s campaign rally packing the BOK Center.

Dr. Bruce Dart, executive director of the Tulsa Health Department, said there are “an awful lot” of positive cases now coming out of Tulsa County. He expressed uncertainty about how long or severe the surge might be. He said his concern lies with hastening the spread of the potentially deadly virus at any large-scale gathering, not just an event with political overtones.

“I want people to be safe, and it hurts my heart to think that there’s a potential that we’re going to have something here where people become exposed to an illness,” Dart told the Tulsa World. “We’ve seen how devastating it’s been across the board in this country, and I don’t want it to happen to anybody here.”

Gov. Kevin Stitt on Monday morning continued to express excitement for Trump’s visit and noted that he is exploring other potential venues or moving the gathering outside.

Stitt attributed the rising COVID-19 numbers — not just in Tulsa, but across the state — to Oklahoma testing more asymptomatic people.

However, the overall number of tests performed the week of June 7 (29,003) was lower than what was tested in recent weeks — May 24 (33,354) and May 31 (44,219), according to state data.

“It is in the United States. It is in Oklahoma,” Stitt said of COVID-19. “And we can’t let it dictate our lives. We have to go about our lives, but we are going to do it with every precaution possible.”

Tulsa County reported another 89 positive cases Monday, topping Saturday’s single-day record of 82. The one-day high total during the first surge in April was 45, on April 3 and April 29. Tulsa County has exceeded 45 new cases in seven of the last eight days.

The county’s seven-day rolling average Monday was 65, 2.5 times the earlier peak of 26 on April 5. The rolling average is the daily average number of cases encompassing the previous seven days.

Dart said he found out on Twitter about Trump’s event, originally scheduled for Friday and then moved to Saturday after an outcry about it detracting from the Juneteenth holiday celebrating the end of slavery.

Dart said he hasn’t been contacted by any state or federal officials for his expertise or concerns about hosting such a large event while cases spike locally. He said moving the gathering outside would be better than having it inside, but there would still remain a greater risk for spreading the disease.

He said his recommendation to Mayor G.T. Bynum made during the weekend — and for the governor, if he were to ask — is to postpone Trump’s rally until COVID-19 isn’t spreading so aggressively.

“I recommend we postpone it and do it at a time when the data is telling us the risk isn’t near what it is to be indoors like it is today,” Dart said. “And frankly, it’s tough; because at this juncture I don’t know when it’s going to be safe. And that’s what makes it hard.”

Bynum and Dart are holding a news conference Wednesday afternoon to address COVID-19.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health didn’t provide a comment Monday afternoon regarding the coronavirus spike. It also didn’t provide comment on the public health implications of Trump’s rally.

In an online letter sent to Bynum on Monday, 500 health care professionals in Tulsa and Oklahoma asked him to issue a moratorium for large-scale indoor events.

Dr. Jabraan Pasha, an internal medicine physician in Tulsa, said he helped write the letter, which posted at noon Sunday and had gathered approximately 500 signatures by that evening.

The letter states that the Trump event might shake the city’s infrastructure, stress its health care systems, and “undoubtedly” cost lives.

“Allowing our city to be one of the first places in the world to host an indoor gathering of this magnitude is not a political matter, it is a public health matter,” the letter states. “As our city and state COVID-19 numbers climb at a rate previously unseen, it is unthinkable that this is seen as a logical choice.”

There were 186 new cases across Oklahoma reported Monday, which is the third-highest single-day mark for the state. There were 222 and 225 positives reported Friday and Saturday, respectively.

The state’s seven-day rolling average for new cases was 173 on Monday — its highest so far. The peak in April was 130 cases.

Stitt said he thinks one of the reasons Trump chose Oklahoma as the site of his inaugural campaign event since the pandemic began is because the state was one of the first to “safely and measurably reopen.”

“The vice president kind of alluded to it more than the president did,” Stitt said of his conversations with both. “They just wanted to showcase Oklahoma as a state that handled COVID correctly, did it the right way.”

Stitt launched Oklahoma’s reopening on April 24, against the desires of the mayors of Tulsa and Oklahoma City.

Stitt said that America is a free society, so individuals are free to go to Trump’s campaign event or stay home. If a person is immune compromised in any way, he said, “we suggest not showing up.”

Oklahoma is positioned well with only 150 people hospitalized for COVID-19 in the state, the governor said, adding that vigilance and precautions are still needed.

Individuals who are hospitalized while awaiting test results, as well as persons already tested positive for the disease, comprise the hospitalizations metric. The state’s peak for hospitalizations was 560 on March 30, when turnaround times for test results were longer.

“We have to watch those hospital capacities,” Stitt said. “We have to watch that, but we are in really, really good shape from a health care perspective in the state of Oklahoma.”

Dart said unfortunately it doesn’t appear to be seasonality with the novel coronavirus — at least not yet — given that Oklahoma has become “pretty warm.” He highlighted Phoenix, where the temperature has been in the 100s, and said the disease is “really surging” there.

He said it’s impossible to predict what might happen.

“It’d be great to see if this virus starts to burn out a little bit in the next couple of weeks, but frankly we don’t know,” Dart said. “I’m going to follow the data and listen to what it tells us and hopefully have the right conversation based on what the data is saying to us.”

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