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COVID-19: Infections peak again for Tulsa County, Oklahoma with more than 200 new cases reported

State health officials on Friday reported 222 new cases of COVID-19, marking a new peak in daily increases for both the state and Tulsa County.

The triple-digit spike brought the total confirmed number of infections to 7,848 since early March. The daily report from the Oklahoma State Department of Health provided no information that might explain the increase.

The last peak of new daily cases for the state was April 4, when 171 new cases were reported.

Health officials reported that 71 of the new confirmed cases occurred in Tulsa County, topping the previous high single-day total of 65.

Tulsa Health Department investigations indicate that the latest outbreak is linked to indoor gatherings where large groups of people congregate for prolonged periods. However, the investigation continues.

The latest peak occurred as Whirlpool Corp. officials revealed additional cases at their Tulsa plant; as protesters sustain demonstrations against police brutality; and as people’s behavior changes during Phase 3 of Gov. Kevin Stitt’s plan to remove COVID-19-related restrictions.

Tulsa Health Department Director Bruce Dart, in a prepared statement, expressed concerns about large, prolonged indoor gatherings.

“It is imperative that anyone who chooses to host or attend a gathering take the steps to stay safe. If you are sick or think you have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, stay home,” said Dart. “The bottom line is that the more people an infected individual interacts with and the longer that interaction lasts, the greater the risk for spreading COVID-19 becomes.”

When asked about the rise in cases, the governor’s office issued a written statement saying Oklahoma has “quadrupled our state’s testing capacity over the last month and as a result have seen an all-time low in our percentage of positive cases at 3.7%.

“We are closely monitoring and deploying resources to communities with recent increases in COVID-19 cases, and Governor Stitt strongly encourages Oklahomans to take precautions to protect themselves and follow the guidance of contact tracers or health officials to quarantine or isolate if they are exposed.

“With more than 80 free testing locations and a robust hospital surge plan still in place, Oklahoma is in a strong position to confront this virus until there is a vaccine.”

Concerns remain for greater transmission of the deadly disease in light of President Donald Trump’s plan to rally support for his 2020 election campaign, which is slated for June 19 in Tulsa at the BOK Center.

Tulsa County’s four-day average number of new cases has doubled from its previous peak in April. The four-day average for new cases reported Friday was 62. The peak before this week was 31 on April 3-4.

Two weeks ago, the county’s four-day average number of new cases was 14.

Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum said the increase in cases was expected as the state continued to reopen.

“As restrictions have been lifted through a phased approach in our state, more and more people are going back to work and returning to some modified sense of normalcy in the midst of this pandemic,” Bynum said in a prepared statement.

“The key to maintaining safety is the capacity of our local health care system. I continue to maintain close communication with the leadership of our hospital systems in Tulsa,” he said. “While we monitor that capacity, none of us should lose sight of this: COVID-19 is still here. Wearing masks, washing our hands frequently and practicing social distancing are all things I’m practicing — and I encourage all Tulsans to do the same to help protect our community.”

Hospitalizations and death statistics tend to lag behind new case counts. As of Friday, state health officials reported that 154 people were hospitalized due to the disease.

In addition to the peak in COVID-19 cases, state health officials also reported that two more people have died from the disease.

Both were men older than 65: a man from Muskogee County and a man from Comanche County, according to health department data.

Prevention of COVID-19’s spread remains the overall goal to reduce strain on hospitals and save lives. Prevention methods include social distancing, home isolation, face coverings and enhanced hygiene.

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

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.

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Interactive graphic: See number of active COVID-19 cases by county

See all of the Tulsa World's coverage related to the coronavirus outbreak​ at tulsaworld.com

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

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

Cancellation of 'Live PD' deemed 'welcome change' as perception of policing comes under scrutiny

Just 10 days after Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum announced that the city would no longer participate in “Live PD,” the network which carried the law enforcement drama decided to cut ties with the show altogether amid protests against police brutality.

A&E announced late Wednesday that it will stop production of the popular cable television program that followed law enforcement officers at agencies until it determines “a clear pathway to tell the stories of both the community and police officers” in the wake of public demonstrations following the death of George Floyd in Minnesota.

The decision by A&E to pull the show is considered a victory for activists and concerned citizens who believed “Live PD” exploited men and women at their worst moments during police interactions strictly for entertainment purposes.

Kristi Williams, a longtime Tulsa activist, said the cancellation of the show is an important step in eradicating the harmful perception that African Americans in particular are associated with criminality.

“Black people need to stop being seen as suspects,” Williams told the Tulsa World. “Live PD feeds the narrative that black people are suspects. That needs to change.”

A January collaborative study by Color Of Change and the USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center’s Media Impact Project purported that television crime shows “distorted representations about Black people, other people of color and women.”

Councilor Lori Decter Wright said the show’s cancellation was “welcome news” for Tulsans who had already urged the city to part ways with the program.

”Whatever perceived benefits its fans say the show promotes, they are, by far, outweighed by the divisiveness, bias confirmation and harm it causes in communities where the show is produced,” Wright said. “There are more productive ways to publicly showcase the daily work of our police officers without resorting to predatory tactics of crafting a narrative showcased on an overproduced reality television show.”

Wright said the police department can take advantage of its social media platforms and other forms of in-house technology to connect and communicate with the public regard police matters.

The latest season of “Live PD” had featured the Tulsa Police Department, which prominently featured Lt. Sean Larkin as a co-host along with Dan Abrams. The show previously chronicled the Oklahoma Highway Patrol.

“While the Tulsa Police Department was working with Mayor Bynum and his staff to find an alternate way to share the behind the scenes work of your Tulsa Police Officers, it appears as though the program was dropped by A&E,” the police department posted on its Facebook page.

“For those of you who were fans of the program and enjoyed seeing your officers on it, we appreciate your support over this last year.”

TPD and Bynum said they will collectively explore alternative options to showcase the work of city police officers in a noncommercial format in the future.

“I’m incredibly proud of the work of the men and women of the Tulsa Police Department, and I want Tulsans to be able to see the broad range of what your officers do,” Bynum said in a recent social media post. “Utilizing a show that sells ads based on the work of our officers is not necessary to achieve that.”

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

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

Trump tweets that he's moving Tulsa rally from Juneteenth to the next day

President Donald Trump tweeted late Friday night that he is moving his Tulsa campaign rally by a day in response to feedback about its being planned for Juneteenth.

“We had previously scheduled our #MAGA Rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, for June 19th — a big deal,” he said in the tweet after 10 p.m. “Unfortunately, however, this would fall on the Juneteenth Holiday.

“Many of my African American friends and supporters have reached out to suggest that we consider changing the date out of respect for this Holiday, and in observance of this important occasion and all that it represents. I have therefore decided to move our rally to Saturday, June 20th, in order to honor their requests …

“We have already had ticket requests in excess of 200,000 people. I look forward to seeing everyone in Oklahoma!”

His campaign manager, Brad Parscale, tweeted earlier in the evening that the number of reservation requests had reached 300,000, and he indicated that the campaign was considering adding another event in Tulsa.

Gov. Kevin Stitt issued a press release later Friday night, saying: “I am thankful President Trump recognizes the significance of June 19 and has chosen to move his campaign rally out of respect to Oklahomans and the important Juneteenth celebrations.

“Oklahoma is better when we work together, and I am excited to host the President on Saturday, June 20, as we celebrate restarting our economy and getting Oklahomans back to work.”

An outcry had arisen on social media and in broadcast, print and digital media nationwide after it was realized that the Tulsa rally had been scheduled on Juneteenth, the annual celebration of the emancipation of the last enslaved people in the United States.

The Oklahoma Legislative Black Caucus, the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission and Oklahoma Democratic Party officials were among those speaking out against the selection of the date next Friday, saying it was divisive in a city that is also commemorating the 99th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre this month.

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Gallery: Black Lives Matter rally at Guthrie Green

Juneteenth's focus should be on important issues, not Trump's visit, Legislative Black Caucus says

A week before President Donald Trump arrives in Tulsa, the Oklahoma Legislative Black Caucus called on constituents to devote Juneteenth, the day meant to celebrate the end of slavery in America, by advancing their own interests rather than being “distracted by divisiveness.”

Five state lawmakers and the Oklahoma Democratic Party chair came together for a press conference on Friday afternoon in front of Tulsa’s Greenwood Cultural Center.

“You see, this America that talks about the United States, quite frankly today, is the America of the Divided States. So, you’ve got your misguiders and your dividers, right? But you’ve got your uniters and providers,” said state Rep. Regina Goodwin, D-Tulsa, the Legislative Black Caucus’ chairwoman.

The press conference was held hours before the president’s tweet announcing he was changing the rally to Saturday so that it would not fall on Juneteenth.

Goodwin said black people are not yet fully free in 2020 because of racial injustice and discrimination, obstacles to health care and high-quality schools, barriers to employment and disproportionate incarceration rates.

She urged them to claim greater freedom for themselves and others and to honor their ancestors by requesting or returning absentee ballots for upcoming elections, taking the U.S. Census survey and studying up on Oklahoma State Question 802, the Medicaid expansion initiative on the June 30 ballot.

The initial timing of Trump’s first rally since the nation became gripped by the pandemic and amid protests against racism and police brutality sparked shock and anger among some Tulsans. Others expressed concern that the appearance could stoke racial and political tensions.

June 19, or Juneteenth, is an annual commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. Tulsa’s Juneteenth event is typically one of the biggest in the country but was canceled this year because of COVID-19 risks.

Goodwin was asked for her reaction to news about Trump’s planned campaign rally next week at the BOK Center downtown. Some of the state’s congressional delegation have praised the rally, saying it will promote healing and unity.

“I’m going to use the good sense God gave me,” Goodwin said. “I would not ask an arsonist to put out a fire. I would not ask a hunter who shoots things for a living to come out and take care of my pet over the weekend.

“We are not going to dishonor the history and the legacy of our ancestors. We’re not going to dishonor the very folks that shed their blood when they were murdered on the very streets of Greenwood.”

In 1921, one of the deadliest acts of racial violence in U.S. history occurred only a mile from the arena where Trump will rally his supporters for reelection.

Hundreds of African Americans are estimated to have been killed by white mobs, and the thriving black-owned business district of Greenwood, called Black Wall Street, and its surrounding residential area was looted and torched.

Goodwin vowed that Oklahoma’s Legislative Black Caucus would continue to push for economic equity, police reforms including independent oversight and public access to police discipline records, new hate-crime legislation and a bill that would make it a criminal misdemeanor offense for officers to turn off their body cameras while on duty.

“What we love to do as legislators is figure out how in this very unjust world of ours, how we can make it a little bit better — not just for us but for all of the constituents we serve,” she said.

Also appearing alongside Goodwin was state Democratic Party Chair Alicia Andrews; Rep. Jason Lowe, D-Oklahoma City, vice chairman of Legislative Black Caucus; Rep. Ajay Pittman, D-Oklahoma City; and Sen. Kevin Matthews and Rep. Monroe Nichols, both D-Tulsa.

Later in the day, Matthews issued written remarks in his capacity as chairman of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission, saying the nonpartisan commission is “beset with concerns” it had received from the community about the initial timing of the Trump rally.

The commission called on all Tulsans and all Americans “to drown out messages of derision and division with words and works that build people up” and to combat systemic racism.

“Our story, the Black Wall Street story, is emblematic of the African American experience more generally — a tale of oppression; a tale of perseverance; a tale about the triumph of the human spirit,” Matthews said in the statement.

“Indeed, among the lessons to be learned from the Massacre is the folly that comes from dividing, marginalizing, and oppressing people based on race. Those lessons have yet to be fully embraced.”

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Gallery: Black Lives Matter rally at Guthrie Green

Gallery: Black Lives Matter rally at Guthrie Green