2020-03-20 ne-cvtulsapresser p (2)

Tulsa Health Department Director Bruce Dart addresses media at a news conference about COVID-19 on Thursday. HARRISON GRIMWOOD/Tulsa World

A Tulsa County man became the state’s first resident to die from COVID-19 on Wednesday, one day after he tested positive for the disease.

Tulsa County health officials said Thursday that it also was the first case of community spread in the county. The man was identified by friends and peers as Merle Dry.

Dry tested positive for the disease Tuesday and died from complications the following day. Health officials had identified him as potentially infected only on Monday. Tulsa Health Department Director Bruce Dart said it “went that fast.”

Dry’s family is under quarantine, said Dart, who did not identify the man at a Thursday news conference.

“This family is under quarantine; they can’t come out of their home for two weeks,” Dart said. “They can’t conduct the funeral for the next two weeks, and even if they do at this junction, the recommendation is for no more than 10 people to be gathered.

“I can’t think of a more heartbreaking scenario than that.”

Dart said most of the county’s cases have been travel-associated. Epidemiologists found no travel association with Dry’s case, so “we do know now that we have community spread.”

Metro Pentecostal Church officials identified Dry late Wednesday evening, asking church members to share their prayers for his family.

“We need the hand of God to guide us,” church officials said in a social media post. “He was so loved by the Metro Pentecostal Church.”

Dry, 55, was in apparent good health. He worked for a contractor at Oral Roberts University in grounds maintenance. He had received awards for exceptional work there, according to church officials.

“Our prayers go out to the family and the entire Sodexo team during this time of loss. ORU is also earnestly praying for all who are being impacted by this pandemic around the world,” ORU President William M. Wilson said in a statement.

Dry had worked previously for Tulsa Public Schools, Superintendent Deborah Gist said in a letter to district employees. His wife, Carrie Dry, is a longtime teacher in the TPS district.

“We are heartbroken that Edison teacher Carrie Dry has lost her beloved spouse, Merle Dry,” Gist said. “Merle was also a former member of our Tulsa Public Schools family and worked with our maintenance team … to help keep our schools safe and clean for students.”

Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum said that, as a city, “we mourn for the loss.”

“This is a city that values life, every life,” Bynum said. “It’s a city that believes every life is important, and our hearts are with the family of this victim today. We hope they know that.”

The first death occurred on the same day Gov. Kevin Stitt announced that the state was low on testing supplies to detect COVID-19. State officials said the limited supplies are reserved for the state’s most vulnerable people.

Dry is survived by his wife, Carrie Dry; a son, Jesse; and a daughter, Pamela, the church said.

“Prayers are needed for this exceptional family. They are loved by all.”

Andrea Eger contributed to this story

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Harrison Grimwood

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