As a practicing emergency physician in Tulsa for the past 10 years, I have great concerns about the ramifications of the planned campaign rally for President Donald Trump on Saturday.
COVID-19 cases in Tulsa County have risen sharply the past week. In the past seven days, the number of new cases in Tulsa County has reached an all-time high four times. On April 24, when Gov. Kevin Stitt announced plans to reopen Oklahoma, he cited the relatively low positive rate of tests performed. At the time, the positivity rate was 6.3%, and dropped down near 3% as recently as last week.
Dr. Bruce Dart of the Tulsa Health Department reported Monday that the positive rate by our Health Department has spiked to 15%, suggesting the increase in positive cases is not solely due to increased testing. Anecdotally, many of my colleagues report seeing more positive cases on a shift than ever before.
More concerning is that the number of hospitalizations is increasing as well. Based on what we know about COVID-19, it is reasonable to expect a surge of hospitalizations in the next two weeks, as those who are diagnosed typically become severely ill at about the two-week mark.
The personal protective equipment shortage has improved but still persists. Health care workers in hospitals across Tulsa hospitals continue to be forced to reuse N95 masks that were intended for single use, and never reused until this pandemic began. Many times as I replace the used mask on my face I fret I have accidentally contaminated myself, adding another worry to an already stressful time.
While I understand that sheltering in place indefinitely and shutting down the economy for months is unrealistic, holding a large indoor rally, where people are shoulder-to-shoulder, as described by President Trump’s own campaign team, seems short-sighted at best and reckless and dangerous at worst. It is not a question of whether someone who attends will be infected, but rather how many and how great the toll will be on our community and local hospitals, and how many attendees will carry COVID-19 back to their local communities.
As a physician, my oath is to do no harm, and to sit silently on this matter feels wrong. I was raised in a conservative, pro-life, Southern Baptist household and continue to have these values today with my own family.
It’s not about President Trump. For me, it doesn’t matter if the rally is for a Republican, Democrat or Queen Elizabeth herself. It’s a terrible idea.
Dr. Samantha Whiteside is a Tulsa emergency physician.
Gallery: Trump supporters out Friday in downtown Tulsa for campaign rally