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Tulsa Health Department Director Describes 'Rough Year' Of Long Days, Death Threats

Chris Polansky
Dr. Bruce Dart, director of the Tulsa Health Department, walks to the lectern at a July 30th press conference at Tulsa Police headquarters to give an update on COVID-19

The head of the Tulsa Health Department says threats have been made against his life as a result of public health recommendations he's made over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"Unfortunately, I've gotten threats of bodily harm," Dr. Bruce Dart said, appearing as a guest on Public Radio Tulsa's StudioTulsa Medical Monday this week. "I've got some threats that can be construed as death threats."

Dart told host Dr. John Schumann that the threats haven't been limited to Tulsans, or even Oklahomans.

"When some of our news here went national, people, without knowing the entire story, they seek you out and I think they direct their anger toward you for whatever it is that they're angry about," Dart said, perhaps referring to his recommendation to Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum that President Donald Trump's political rally in June be postponed due to the pandemic. (The mayor declined to take Dart's recommendation.)

"I've been doing this for 40 years over three states, and I think all my public health colleagues will tell you that none of us have ever dealt with a situation of this length and degree, and the politics have really impacted how we go forward and how we do our work," Dart said.

NPR has reported on an "unprecedented" exodus of local public health figures across the country during the pandemic, including the health commissioner of New York City and the public health director of the state of California.

"I think the thing that really makes it hard on people is that there's no end in sight, and we don't know what that end is going to be," Dart said Monday.

"People are scared and angry. We all know about the politics now that has impacted the response. I basically haven't had a day off since February," he said.

Bynum said he relied on Dart's advice in recommending, developing, introducing and signing Tulsa's mandatory mask ordinance in July.

In addition to the Trump reelection rally, Dart has had numerous health recommendations rejected or ignored during the pandemic, including a recent call for Tulsa County school districts to not reopen for in-person learning yet. Union Public Schools, Broken Arrow Public Schools and Bixby Public Schools are among the districts that have voted to reopen for in-person learning this fall regardless of Dart's suggestion.

During this week's visit to Tulsa by White House coronavirus task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx, Bynum says that despite his requests to Gov. Kevin Stitt, Dart was not allowed to attend a roundtable meeting with her. Stitt told reporters Sunday that there was not capacity in the meeting room to accommodate local-level health officials. A Tulsa Health Department spokesperson confirmed Monday that Dart "would have welcomed the opportunity" to be present for the meeting.

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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