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COVID-19: Spike in new cases continues Tuesday, as Oklahoma reports another new high

Correction: This story incorrectly reported the total for the new cases of COVID-19 reported Tuesday in Tulsa County. The correct number is 76. This story has been corrected.

Tuesday marked the highest single-day total yet in new COVID-19 cases in Oklahoma.

That count came on the heels of successive days in which the deadly disease has far exceeded peaks in April and on the lead up-to significant political activity in downtown Tulsa.

Tulsa County has the highest number (1,729) of confirmed cases of any county in the state, despite having a population more than 20% smaller than Oklahoma County, the state’s most populous county, which has reported 1,673 cases.

Tulsa County also reported its highest seven-day rolling average, 66.9 new cases, since the pandemic began, according to the Tulsa County Health Department’s website.

State health officials reported 228 new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday in Oklahoma, according to data from the Oklahoma State Department of Health. Four more people died, including two in Tulsa County. There have been a total of 363 deaths and 8,645 infections since March in Oklahoma.

As questions mounted about whether the city would act to stop President Donald Trump’s rally on Saturday in downtown Tulsa, Mayor G.T. Bynum said in a Facebook post Tuesday that he will not exercise his authority to halt mass gatherings.

“That authority was used earlier this year under extraordinary circumstances to prevent the catastrophic collapse of our local health care system,” Bynum said. “Today, that system’s capacity is strong.”

While the daily count in Tulsa County did not set another record, the spike was among the highest since the pandemic began, at 76 newly confirmed cases.

Trump has scheduled a campaign rally for 7 p.m. Saturday at the BOK Center. Doors open at 3 p.m. for an event the campaign said has generated 1 million requests for tickets.

Various groups who have sustained protests nationally against police violence and race-based inequalities are scheduled to stage counter-rallies.

Trump supporters, who were gathering outside of the BOK Center on Tuesday, said they had no fear of the virus. James Massery said he did not worry about COVID-19, a sentiment shared among others there.

“Whether or not I get it, it doesn’t bother me in the least,” said Massery, who is from Preston, a small community about 30 miles from Tulsa. “If I get it, I’ll deal with it ... if it takes me out, it’s just going to make me mad that I can’t vote for Trump in this coming election.”

Health officials recorded 89 new cases Monday in Tulsa County. The state’s rolling 7-day average, as of Tuesday, was at 183, according to OSDH data. It’s the highest statewide seven-day average to date.

Darryl Henry, who was also camping out for the rally, said one must “fear not.”

“We’ve paid enough sacrifices, we’ve taken enough precautions, and let’s get back to it,” Henry said. “Let’s get back to opening our country.”

Marq Lewis, a community activist with We the People Oklahoma, said social distancing will be impossible.

Lewis said he has not planned to demonstrate on Saturday due to the looming threat of COVID-19.

“I get it; the mission is bigger than what’s ahead of us,” Lewis said. “I think many African Americans feel that.”

Lewis said there’s a stark difference between an ideological campaign rally and what he referred to as the mission: pushing for police reforms.

“I’m hoping we get through this, this coronavirus,” he said. “I’m hoping local government will get to a place to better their Police Department.

“We can no longer allow just lip service.”

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. Bruce Dart, the Tulsa Health Department director, has been imploring public officials since at least Saturday to postpone the rally.

Public health officials started recommending in early April that people wear cloth face coverings to help prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus. The recommendation is not to prevent the wearer from contracting the virus but to help prevent the wearer from unknowingly spreading it.

In Bynum’s Facebook post Tuesday, the mayor said that the Trump campaign has indicated it will take health precautions at the rally: “Every attendee will have to pass a temperature check before they can enter the facility. Every attendee will be provided with a mask. Every attendee will have access to hand sanitizer stations.”

COVID-19 has an incubation period of two days to two weeks, during which time a person may be contagious but not have symptoms.

Social distancing means staying out of group or congregate settings, avoiding mass gatherings and maintaining a distance of at least 6 feet from others.

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

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

Zarrow Foundation creates $6 million fund to honor victims of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre

Inspired by recent protests in Tulsa and across the United States, the city’s Zarrow Families Foundation will create a multimillion-dollar fund “to be led exclusively by people of color,” officials announced Tuesday.

The Commemoration Fund, named in honor of victims of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, will receive five to seven years of support totaling at least $6 million while grant guidelines will be shaped by an advisory board “exclusively representative of people of color,” officials said.

“We’ve decided to commit the funds of the entire joint family foundation to this cause,” the foundation’s three trustees said in a joint statement, adding that “the important decision here is not to initiate grants for the cause, but to grant authority over those funds directly to Black, Indigenous People of Color.”

Advisory board members will include University of Tulsa basketball coach Frank Haith and Tulsa author Hannibal Johnson.

“We have been distressed and moved by what is happening in Tulsa and across the country,” said Judy Kishner, one of three trustees for the Zarrow Families Foundation.

“We had to do something that made abundantly, certainly and unequivocally clear that we stand for the real change needed to stop this racial injustice.”

The new fund will begin taking proposals in late 2020 or early 2021 with the first grants coming in by May 2021, for the 100th anniversary of Tulsa Race Massacre, officials said.

“We really saw that it’s not enough to just grant funds,” said Gail Richards, a trustee. “We need to grant the authority to determine those grants. It’s the authority to direct that money as much as it is the money itself that is valued.”

City Councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper described the new fund as “simply groundbreaking for the Tulsa community.”

“It’s important to me that philanthropic organizations can give where it matters the most,” Hall-Harper said. “This commitment represents tangible and sustainable giving that can be built upon for generations to come.”

Brothers who grew up in Tulsa and made a fortune from the Sooner Pipe & Supply company, Henry and Jack Zarrow became two of the city’s most prominent philanthropists. And their families carry on the tradition through three foundations, including the joint Zarrow Families Foundation.

The Anne and Henry Zarrow Foundation and the Maxine and Jack Zarrow Family Foundation will continue to operate as before, officials said Tuesday.

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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

Who approves events at the BOK Center? City's contract with facility manager offers insight

Mayor G.T. Bynum said Tuesday that he was left out of the loop when it came to early advance planning for President Donald Trump’s campaign rally in Tulsa.

Bynum said in a Facebook post that he did not learn about the rally, originally planned for Friday but now moved back a day, until BOK Center management asked his office about police support for the event. He did not specify when that occurred.

Trump announced last week that he would resume his popular political rallies, beginning in Tulsa, after suspending them in March at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Trump’s rally, scheduled for 7 p.m. Saturday at the BOK Center, will occur as the number of active COVID-19 cases in the county has nearly doubled in the past week to all-time highs.

Meghan Blood, director of marketing for the BOK Center, issued a statement saying that “government officials have advised that the campaign rally as planned is consistent with” state guidelines under which entertainment venues could reopen May 1. “However, in the event that the governing authorities impose new restrictions, we will notify the event organizers immediately,” her statement says.

In response to a Tulsa World question about whether the mayor or the city could legally block an event from occurring, the Mayor’s Office responded in writing: “No, the City does not control where the President can visit. Mayor Bynum did not sign a contract, an agreement or issue a City permit as this was coordinated through the event organizer and venue management firm.”

And Bynum said he would not exercise his local civil emergency authority to block the rally.

“That authority was used earlier this year under extraordinary circumstances to prevent the catastrophic collapse of our local health care system,” Bynum said. “Today, that system’s capacity is strong.”

In response to a Tulsa World question about how BOK Center employees would be protected from possible exposure to the virus, Blood said employees would be provided masks and bottles of hand sanitizer in addition to having their temperature checked upon arrival.

The city said Bynum consulted with Tulsa Health Department Executive Director Bruce Dart and with local hospital officials about the dangers of hosting the rally.

Dart has said multiple times publicly that he would like the event to be postponed, citing recent upticks in active cases and hospitalizations.

The Mayor’s Office provided a copy of the management services contract between the city of Tulsa, the Tulsa Public Facilities Authority and the BOK Center management company, called SMG at the time of its approval. SMG has since merged with AEG Facilities to form a new company, ASM Global.

The city of Tulsa owns the BOK Center, but it leases the building to the Tulsa Public Facilities Authority, a public body that serves the city.

Contract language between the city and ASM Global appears to cast doubt on the city’s ability to veto an event booking, at least without a civil emergency order.

The management contract grants ASM Global the “sole right and authority to” execute as an agent for the city all rental agreements and booking commitments and all other contracts in connection with management of BOK Center and the nearby Cox Business Convention Center.

The contract also acknowledges that the city and TPFA are subject to the state Open Records Act.

“SMG (now ASM Global) understands and acknowledges that the city and TPFA are subject to the Oklahoma Open Records Act and therefore cannot assure the confidentiality of the contract terms or other information provided by SMG to City and/or TPFA pursuant to this agreement,” the contract states.

The contract calls on the city and TPFA to notify ASM Global if they receive any records requests for information that ASM Global deems a trade secret.

The city shall initially withhold such requested information if it agrees that the information requested could be protected by one of the exceptions to the state Open Records Act, the contract says.

If the record requestor “pursues its request for information,” ASM is responsible for seeking any judicial relief from disclosure.

The contract with ASM also calls on ASM to hold the city and TPFA harmless for any loss, damage or claims arising from performance of the agreement. The contract calls for ASM to carry $1 million in commercial liability insurance.

Despite his concerns, Bynum expressed optimism in his social media post about the city’s ability to handle an increase in COVID-19 cases.

“The key threat as we reopen is hospital capacity,” Bynum wrote.

He said the hospitalization rate peaked in April but has started to increase recently.

“It has started to rise, but it remains comparatively low and our local hospital officials assure me their capacity remains strong,” Bynum wrote.

COVID-19 hospitalizations peaked April 2 at 45 cases, according to the Tulsa Health Department website. Hospitalizations typically lag new case reports by several days.

The number of Tulsa County COVID-19 hospitalizations bottomed out May 11 at 15 cases. Hospitalizations remained relatively steady after that until June 7, when they began to increase again until peaking at 36 cases on June 10. There were 30 hospitalized COVID-19 patients on Sunday, the most recent figures available.

Bynum said the city has been following the state’s guidelines for reopening every industry since May 1.

Johns Hopkins University, meanwhile, estimated on June 8 that the number of hospitalizations in Oklahoma would gradually increase from 55 new cases per day to 68 cases per day in a little over two weeks, where it afterward would remain steady through July 4. Other models show fewer cases in the state.

But the number of new COVID-19 cases reported in Tulsa County alone has set records in recent days, going beyond the Johns Hopkins prediction for the whole state.

On Monday, the Tulsa Health Department reported 89 new COVID-19 cases, a daily record. The seven-day moving average of new cases also hit a new high of 67 per day on Tuesday.

In fact, seven of the largest single-day numbers of new COVID-19 cases in Tulsa County have occurred in the last seven days.

Trump has said the campaign has received over 1 million requests for tickets to the Saturday rally. The BOK Center maximum seating capacity is about 19,000. Rally organizers have also discussed using a video feed from the rally to pipe it to the nearby Cox Business Convention Center for an overflow audience.

Bynum in his Facebook post asked and answered questions posed to himself about the safety of hosting such an event.

“Do I share anxiety about having a full house at the BOK Center?” Bynum asked. “Of course.

“As someone who is cautious by nature, I don’t like to be the first to try anything. I would have loved some other city to have proven the safety of such an event already.”

But Bynum noted that the Trump campaign has agreed to follow safety precautions, including requiring attendees to pass a temperature check before entering the BOK Center.

Attendees will also be provided masks, although they will not be required to wear them.

Hand sanitizer will also be made available during the rally, according to Bynum.

State Department of Health Commissioner Dr. Lance Frye, in a statement Tuesday, acknowledged the increased risk of exposure to COVID-19 for those attending the rally.

He urged attendees to wear masks over their faces during the rally and plan to get a COVID-19 test afterwards.

Frye also urged those with a temperature of at least 100.4 to “seek out options to participate through a live stream or recording.”

Frye said those 65 years of age and older or those immunocompromised should not attend the rally.

Rally attendees must agree not to hold the Trump campaign responsible for any COVID-19-related illnesses they might contract while attending the event.

Jimmie Tramel contributed to this story.

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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

The Rev. Al Sharpton to headline Tulsa Juneteenth event, organizers say

The Rev. Al Sharpton will be the keynote speaker at the “I, Too, Am America: Juneteenth Rally for Justice.”

The longtime civil rights activist, as well as founder and president of National Action Network, will join the family of Terence Crutcher in Tulsa this Friday as the keynote speaker for a commemoration of the anniversary of the emancipation of enslaved African people from bondage in the United States, also known as Juneteenth, according to a news release.

The “I, Too, Am America” event will be from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. in the Greenwood District and will feature live entertainment, performances, speakers, poetry, food trucks, vendors and children’s activities. Attendees will also be able to register to vote.

A full schedule of events has not been made available, but organizers have said that the event’s headline personalities, which include Sharpton, will likely be presented after 6 p.m. Friday.

Sharpton, a former minister turned activist, broadcaster and politician, has been actively involved in the fight for civil rights for more than half a century.

His most recent visits to Tulsa were in 2016 and 2017, in the wake of the shooting of Crutcher.

Earlier this month, Sharpton spoke at the funeral of George Floyd, whose death at the hands of Minneapolis police officers in May has prompted demonstrations and protests against racism and police brutality throughout the country.

Other headline acts for “I, Too, Am America,” will be announced at a later date. Read more about the event in Wednesday’s Weekend section.


Black Tulsans apprehensive about possible Trump visit to Greenwood

September 2016 gallery: The Rev. Al Sharpton takes part in rally, march with Terence Crutcher family

September 2016 gallery: The Rev. Al Sharpton takes part in rally, march with Terence Crutcher family