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Tulsa To Ease Virus Restrictions Next Week, But Reluctant Mayor Warns Cases 'Will Increase'

Chris Polansky
Tulsa's local COVID-19 virtual press conference on Friday, April 24th.

His hand seemingly forced by Governor Kevin Stitt's easing of restrictions on business closures implemented to slow the spread of COVID-19, Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum announced reluctantly on Friday that Tulsa's "Safer At Home" order will expire on Thursday, April 30th. 

"Our cases in Tulsa County over the last 14 days are trending upward, not down," Bynum said. "If we were to follow the federal standard locally, we would wait for the 14-day decline to occur and then begin rollbacks. But Tulsa does not exist in a bubble. We do not get that choice." 

"Because of the state government's initiated rollback, and the willingness of other communities in the region to follow it, we should expect more people to come into contact with one another, and we should expect the virus to spread at a more rapid pace in our metro area," Bynum said. 

"Tulsa's cases will not go down. They will increase." 

Bynum said that he was only beginning to loosen guidelines because attempting to continue imposing restrictions in Tulsa would be "futile" in achieving any public health goals due to decisions made by Stitt and local leaders around Oklahoma.

"I cannot in good conscience ask Tulsans to continue making these extreme personal and financial sacrifices," Bynum said, "in pursuit of a goal that will be impossible to reach in any reasonable period of time."

A resigned Tulsa Health Department Director Dr. Bruce Dart said that, whatever happens in terms of reopening businesses and houses of worship, Tulsans should remain on guard. 

“This virus will still be here. It’s not going away. It’s still in Oklahoma. It’s still here in Tulsa,” Dart said. “In all honesty, I think it’s too early. Our positive results are trending in the wrong direction. My preference would be that we actually waited.”

“We still have the responsibility to each other to continue to practice social distancing,” Dart said.

Taking questions submitted by reporters, Bynum was asked directly whether he thought the decision by state and local leaders would harm Tulsans.

“Am I concerned that people in communities where restrictions have been loosened will impact Tulsa? The answer is yes," Bynum said. "That is also why I think it is futile for us to try and keep a strong social distancing policy in place here that places such a heavy personal and financial burden on Tulsans, when everyone around us has abandoned that practice.”

“I'm disappointed that Tulsans were not given the opportunity to position our city at a level of safety recommended by federal authorities," Bynum said. "It isn’t ideal, but I know Tulsans will make the best of the circumstances that have been handed to us. That is what we always do.” 

Bynum said he has requested that Governor Stitt monitor health data closely moving forward after some businesses reopen across the state on Friday. Bynum said Stitt assured him the state would do so.

“If they detect a spike in cases, they will halt rollbacks,” Bynum said he was told by the governor. “I take him at his word on that.”

“I want to give the state a week of looking at that kind of data to make sure that they’re 100% confident that May 1 is the time to be moving forward with the further part of phase one.”

At least 27 Tulsa residents have died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, according to the Tulsa Health Department, and 467 confirmed cases have been identified. The state health department says 188 Oklahomans have died, with 3,121 confirmed cases across the state.

Chris joined Public Radio Tulsa as a news anchor and reporter in April 2020. He’s a graduate of Hunter College and the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, both at the City University of New York.
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