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COVID-19 surge so far driven by younger people, normal activities, Tulsa Health Department director says

Tulsa County’s skyrocketing COVID-19 cases so far are driven by younger people returning to normal activities amid atypical circumstances.

Dr. Bruce Dart, executive director of the Tulsa Health Department, during a Wednesday news conference presented sobering data.

“What we are seeing in the case spike could be a precursor because in the last week we have not yet seen an increase in deaths; we have seen an increase in hospitalizations,” Dart said. “While the risk of severe complications is lower for younger people, they can spread it to those more vulnerable like their parents or any immunocompromised friends.”

Tulsa County’s new cases the week of June 14-20 climbed by 92%, of which 40% were in the age 18-35 demographic. The 18-35 demographic itself saw an increase of nearly 90%.

The second largest age demographic to have new cases was 36-49, representing 20%.

Hospitalizations in the 18-35 age group, which represent one-quarter of all COVID-19 hospitalizations in Tulsa County, leaped 133% over the previous week.

There were 59 COVID-19 inpatients June 20-21 in Tulsa County — the high so far since the pandemic began. The prior peak was 44 on April 2. Most recently, it was 55 on Monday.

Dart said the majority of new cases are traced back to routine aspects of life: weddings, funerals, faith-based activities, bars, gyms, house gatherings and other small events — otherwise dubbed as the “serious seven” by Oklahoma City health officials and co-opted by their counterparts in Tulsa.

He said people ages 18-49 are more likely than ever to be carrying the virus throughout the community because they are the most mobile demographic.

“If you are in this demographic, you may think you’re invincible,” Dart said. “Right now more than half of all hospitalizations are for people under the age of 50.”

It’s too soon to know the public health outcome of Trump’s rally in Tulsa, but Dart recommends anyone who attends large gatherings to be tested at least five to seven days after the event. The disease’s incubation period is two to 14 days, he said, and asymptotic people prior to testing could unknowingly spread it.

Dart said his department understands people have concerns about what a 14-day quarantine might look like or how it affects financial stability.

“We are here to answer your questions, provide documentation for your employer, and ensure that you are doing the right thing to protect yourself and to protect others.”

Hospitals encourage social distancing, testing

Hillcrest HealthCare System, OSU Medicine and Saint Francis Health System recently put out a joint statement encouraging northeast Oklahoma residents to practice social distancing as cases rise.

• If possible, maintain 6 feet of distance from others.

• Cloth masks are recommended in public, especially when distancing is difficult. To be effective, the mask should fit snugly over your nose and mouth.

• Don’t touch your eyes, nose or mouth.

• Wash your hands frequently throughout the day with soap and water. If soap isn’t available, use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.

Testing available:

• OSU Medicine: 918-599-5300

• Saint Francis Health System/Warren Clinic: 918-502-9700

• Tulsa Health Department: 918-582-9355

• Utica Park Clinic: 918-574-0920

Look for the helpers: See what these Tulsans are doing to see the stress of the coronavirus pandemic

Look for the helpers: See what these Tulsans are doing to ease the stress of the coronavirus pandemic

Watch Now: Early voting continues through Saturday in Tulsa County

The Tulsa County Election Board saw a line out the door as early voting started Thursday morning.

Local election officials reported a steady stream of voters throughout the day with a total of 992 people casting ballots Thursday.

Early in-person voting continues at the Tulsa County Election Board, 555 N. Denver Ave., from 8 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturday.

Voters should bring approved identification and are strongly encouraged to wear face masks and practice social distancing for the protection of election workers and other voters.

Tulsa's John Hope Franklin park added to federal African American Civil Rights Network list

John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park, which memorializes Tulsa’s bleakest days and one of its most distinguished sons, has been added to the National Park Service’s African American Civil Rights Network.

“The story, I think, is more than Tulsa in the ’20s,” U.S. Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said Thursday. “It is, obviously, that, (but also) the life and work of Dr. John Hope Franklin.”

Bernhardt signed the National Park Service designation late Wednesday, days after President Donald Trump said during an appearance in Tulsa that he had recommended the action.

Various groups have been working for some time to add the historic Greenwood neighborhood to the network, but Bernhardt said this week’s action was “a direct result of the president’s visit.”

It was unclear why the park rather than the entire Greenwood District was designated for inclusion in the network, but Bernhardt said long-running efforts at some sort of NPS affiliation may continue.

John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park, 321 N. Detroit Ave., was the result of a state-led examination of Tulsa’s 1921 Race Massacre. It was built largely with state funds and the assistance of the city of Tulsa on land owned by the Tulsa Development Authority.

The park is owned by the city but operated by the John Hope Franklin Foundation, and includes several notable sculptures.

John Hope Franklin was a renowned historian who spent much of his youth in Tulsa and graduated from Booker T. Washington High School. His father, B.C. Franklin, was a well-known Tulsa attorney who represented many of those who lost their homes and businesses in the massacre.

The African American Civil Rights Network, a new NPS program signed into law only three years ago, includes about 30 sites, including the Lincoln Memorial and an online Civil Rights archive. The park is Oklahoma’s first site to be included in the network.

“We’re certainly happy with the designation,” said Reuben Gant, executive director of the John Hope Franklin Foundation. “We’re still looking forward to an appropriate designation for the district itself.”

The thriving African American commercial district centered on Greenwood Avenue was destroyed by a white mob on June 1, 1921, but rebounded to reach its peak after World War II. Declining in the 1960s, it was mostly bulldozed during the urban renewal of the 1970s.

“John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park is much more than a quiet place to visit and reflect. It serves as a challenge to people of all places and races to come together in the spirit of dialogue, understanding, and reconciliation,” U.S. Sen. James Lankford said in a statement. “Tulsa has seen the worst of racial hatred, but as we approach the 100th anniversary of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, this park will help us show America the best of humanity by helping people overcome division and move forward in racial harmony.”

“President Trump is shining a light on one of the most moving, unique memorials in the United States,” U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe said. “As is in its name, the park emphasizes the importance of reconciliation to promote healing in our community.”

Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum pointed out that Oklahoma will now have a site joining other historic places “such as the Selma Highway and the birthplace of Martin Luther King Jr., which leave a significant and historic legacy in our country’s history. As we approach the centennial of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, this site will continue to serve as a national platform for Tulsans and others to learn from our past as we work toward healing and justice for the Tulsa community.”


Gallery: Tulsa Race Massacre 1921 timeline

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

State board of education slaps Oologah-Talala with accreditation probation, public reprimands for teacher misconduct cases

Oologah-Talala Public Schools had its state accreditation placed on probation Thursday and its local school board and superintendent are being publicly reprimanded by the Oklahoma State Board of Education.

Representatives of the Rogers County school district were first summoned before the state board in October, citing their handling of four separate cases of teacher “misconduct of a sexual nature involving students” over the last four years.

Then they were summoned again in a March letter, which stated that a concerned parent informed the state about a new case — this time of a high school girls basketball coach accused by multiple students of sexual harassment — that the local school district reportedly did not tell them about in a timely fashion.

Not all of the cases resulted in criminal prosecution, but all five did result in the suspension or revocation of the teachers’ credentials by the state Board of Education.

But the matter before the state Board of Education was delayed until Thursday as state and local education officials grappled with statewide school closures because of the coronavirus pandemic.

After discussing Oologah-Talala’s issues with representatives of the local district and school board for three hours in executive session, which is not open to the public, the state board voted unanimously in taking the extraordinary action against Oologah-Talala’s accreditation.

The probation period was set for the remainder of 2019-20, as well as all of 2020-21, with local officials being required to provide quarterly updates to the state Board of Education beginning in July.

And the state board directed its attorney to draft letters of public reprimand against Oologah-Talala Superintendent Max Tanner and the district’s local school board.

“The Oologah-Talala board of education has a responsibility to the safety and well-being of their students as well as the school culture built by the leadership they hired. There were five district teachers since 2016 who have either surrendered, or faced revocation of, their teaching certificates following sexual misconduct incidents,” said State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, in a written statement to the Tulsa World. “In the most recent case, district leaders allowed time to lapse before notifying appropriate parties. District leaders and local boards have a clear duty to move swiftly when notified of complaints involving inappropriate action with a child.”

After the meeting, another state board member called the situation “very alarming and concerning.”

“They were very convincing in saying they were going to get things righted and get their house in order (in October). However right after that, there was a fifth case of inappropriateness, but it was not reported in timely fashion by that school district,” said Brian Bobek of Oklahoma City. “I myself am a parent, as are all of my colleagues. Governor (Kevin) Stitt asked us to serve on this board and he uses a couple of words a lot — transparency and accountability.

“He is holding us accountable for making sure kids can go there and be safe and not under duress and be educated. Our hope is there won’t be any more cases.”

Brad Clark, the state board’s attorney, said the action taken Thursday against Oologah-Talala was indeed remarkable because it is the final straw before a district could lose state accreditation, which would force its closure.

“This finding is that a district has consistently violated rules and regulations or deliberately violated rules and regulations,” Clark said. “The situation will be monitored. It’s fair to say another incident — if there were a sixth incident in the district, I think that would certainly tip the scales and bring that right back to the state board for more action.”

Oologah-Talala is located just north of Collinsville and Claremore and serves about 1,800 students.

Superintendent Tanner told the Tulsa World on Thursday evening: “I will be working with our (local) board of education to correct some areas of concern starting immediately and we look forward to making these positive changes in compliance and culture in our district. Oologah-Talala has a tradition of excellence and we will continue to improve for our students and families.”

The Tulsa World has also reached out to representatives of the local school board in Oologah but has not yet received a response.


Gallery: Images from inside the BOK Center during President Trump's campaign rally

Gallery: Images from inside the BOK Center during President Trump's campaign rally

Don't let the silence fool you. Tulsa still in the running for Tesla factory, state official says

It seems like forever ago that Mayor G.T. Bynum stood at the feet of a new-look Golden Driller and made a pitch for Tulsa to become the home of Tesla’s next manufacturing facility.

In fact, it was just five weeks ago. Five weeks of waiting to see whether the electronic-vehicle maker would build its “Cybertruck Gigafactory” in Austin, Texas, or Tulsa.

Sean Kouplen, Oklahoma’s Secretary of Commerce, said Thursday that he expects a decision in the next few weeks and that he believes Tulsa is well positioned to land the project.

“The governor and I still wholeheartedly believe that Tulsa would be the best location for them,” Kouplen said. “Even as we have learned more about Austin, we just believe the advantages we have are greater.”

The Associated Press reported in mid-May that Tulsa and Austin were finalists for Tesla’s latest production facility. The factory is expected to build electric pickups and Model Y small SUVs.

About a week later came the rally at Expo Square, where a reimagined Golden Driller donning a painted Tesla logo on its chest and an Elon Musk mask on its face was unveiled.

The event was part of a larger Tulsa for Tesla campaign that employed social media, videos and any other tool Tulsans could come up with to express support for the project.

At the end of May, Gov. Kevin Stitt led a contingent of Oklahomans to Florida to meet with Musk prior to the launch of the SpaceX rocket.

Then things went quiet, until last week, when an industry publication called Teslarati posted a story saying Tesla had purchased land in Texas, “indicating Cybertruck factory will be built near Austin.”

Musk responded with a tweet: “Tesla has an option to purchase this land, but has not exercised it.”

Kouplen said the move is all part of the company’s due diligence.

“I am in constant contact with Tesla executives and they have assured me that there has been no decision made yet,” he said. “They are simply going through the same process with Austin that they went through with Tulsa, and once they have accumulated all of the data and all of the facts they will make their decision.”

Oklahomans are often too quick to assume that they cannot compete with Texas for large employers, and that is simply not true, Kouplen said.

“We have 115 companies right now looking to relocate to Oklahoma that we are working with at the Department of Commerce,” Kouplen said.

Among the advantages the state has to offer, Kouplen said, are a central location for distribution, a strong manufacturing base, a lucrative automotive engineering tax credit, a career tech program to offer free employee training, and an inland navigation hub at the Port of Catoosa.

Even more important is the state’s unity of purpose when it comes to attracting and welcoming new businesses, Kouplen said.

Tesla received a mixed welcome during a Travis County, Texas, commissioners meeting earlier this week, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

“I know for a fact that when you deal with Oklahoma, the state, the cities, our economic development professionals, we work together,” Kouplen said. “We are cooperative.”

Kouplen acknowledged that the state has been working hard to overcome the perception that it can’t fill all of the engineering positions Tesla would need to operate its new factory.

“So we are working to show them that we can attract the talent that they need and that we do have the talent,” he said. “We have over 2,400 engineers graduated from our universities every year and they would be very competitive in recruiting engineers there.

“I think we have a case there as well but that is definitely our challenge.”

The state’s ace in the hole might just end up being the remade Golden Driller and other brazenly transparent efforts to get Tesla and its enigmatic CEO to take note.

“I do think it is very important for Tesla to understand that our community effort — the whole community, not just me, not just the mayor, but everyone pitching in ... all of the things that our community has done, that is the reason they love Tulsa,” Kouplen said. “... It is almost as if we have kind of forced ourselves into the equation, you can’t really ignore us, and they love that, they admire that.”


Tulsa vs. Austin to get Tesla: A look at the stats

Tulsa vs. Austin to get Tesla: A look at the stats