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Tulsa County Outbreak 'Continuing To Surge' As Officials Hope Mask Mandate Can Slow Or Reverse Trend

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Chris Polansky
/
KWGS News
Dr. Bruce Dart (left), director of the Tulsa Health Department, speaking at a press conference alongside an American Sign Language interpreter.

Tulsa County officials said local coronavirus numbers remain troubling, but they hope the recently adopted mask mandate can slow or reverse the trends.

"Are we plateauing in cases as the governor indicated we might be in Oklahoma? In Tulsa County, we are not -- we are continuing to surge," said Dr. Bruce Dart, director of the Tulsa Health Department, in response to a reporter's question.

"We're continuing to see a higher percent of daily positives than we would like. It's telling us the virus is widespread in our community and the prevalence is extremely high," Dart said.

A full 1% of Tulsa County's residents are now confirmed to have been infected with the novel coronavirus during the course of the pandemic, according to Mayor G.T. Bynum and Dart, who called the stat "extremely unusual." Dart also said that it's possible that the true figure could be closer to 11% based on research on underreporting of infections.

Dart said that young people are driving the spike in cases. The two age ranges with the highest week-over-week increase in new infections are 5-17 and 0-4. According to Dart, 75% of all cases in Tulsa County are under the age of 50, and those under the age of 50 make up 34% of all those hospitalized with COVID-19.

Bynum said that while he has still not heard from the state or federal governments about the White House coronavirus task force document that recommends Tulsa, Ottawa, Oklahoma and Okmulgee Counties all implement much stricter restrictions than are currently in place, like closing all bars and limiting gatherings to 10 people, those recommendations remain "very much on the table based on the guidance that we get from the Tulsa Health Department and the need that we hear from our local health care community."

"But I will also say that, I think, for those of us who supported the mask ordinance, one of the key motivators behind that is that it is a hope of ours that this is a measure that's enough that it allows us to avoid those kinds of measures that are more harmful to our local economy," Bynum said.

The mayor said that he's personally seen a higher rate of mask usage in the city since the ordinance passed, and that business owners have thanked him for the ordinance.

"It's not on a business-by-business case as to who thinks someone should have a mask on or not. Now it's just the law of the city that gives them some reassurance," Bynum said. "We're happy to be the bad guy there. They can blame it on us."

In response to a question about other cities in the Tulsa metro not introducing any mask requirements, Bynum said he wished they would do more.

"My hope is that our colleagues in our neighboring cities will engage in the same kind of due diligence that the [Tulsa] city council did, and invite local doctors and local health care leaders in to hear from them," Bynum said. "Invite the leadership of our local hospitals and ask them for their guidance and what they need."

"Because the reality, as we've discussed in these briefings many times, is that the hospital system that we have in the city of Tulsa does not just serve the city of Tulsa. It serves this entire part of the state of Oklahoma, so we are all very much in this together," Bynum said. 

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