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Stressing Local Expertise, Bynum, Dart Downplay Federal, State Guidance On Virus Response

Chris Polansky
Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum (left) and Tulsa Health Department Director Dr. Bruce Dart at an Aug. 20th press conference at Tulsa Police headquarters.

(This story was updated at 5:02 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 27th, to include additional information from the Tulsa Health Department on settings connected to COVID-19 infections.)

Following newly released documents from the White House coronavirus task force recommending that the city of Tulsa and Tulsa County implement more stringent measures to combat the pandemic, local officials on Thursday stressed local expertise and knowledge are more targeted and relevant than the federal suggestions.

"The state and the federal government, I mean, they're a support system, but we have to act based on what we see here," said Dr. Bruce Dart, director of the Tulsa Health Department. "The data really helps, guides us on what to do here, informs our strategy here, and we follow the data extremely closely."

The latest White House report, dated Sunday and released by the Oklahoma State Department of Health on Wednesday, considers Tulsa County and the Tulsa metro "red zones," and recommends, among other steps, closing all bars and limiting gatherings to no more than 10 people. 

"We've had a lot of discussion, in particular, around the restaurants and bars and event limitations, and on each of those, Dr. Dart's recommendation to us has been that that's a broad, sweeping recommendation that may be applicable in some cities where they're in the red zone, but it doesn't apply to the data that we see on the ground here," said Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum, adding that he would not hesitate to act if those steps do become necessary.

"When it comes down to it, when we decide what's best for Tulsa, we're talking with the Tulsa Health Department and our hospitals, and we'll continue to do that," Bynum said.

Following the press conference, Leanne Stephens, communications director for the Tulsa Health Department, identified residential high risk settings, faith based settings, weddings, funerals, camps, conferences and group gatherings as some of the settings where the department is seeing "links" to COVID-19 cases in the county.

"The settings themselves are not necessarily more risky, it’s the behavior that’s occurring which is people in close prolonged contact," Stephens said. "Which makes the “three W’s” so important." (The department defines the "three W's" as "Wear your mask, wash your hands, and watch your distance.")


Dart and Bynum both called for broader mask mandates in the Tulsa area, touting the ordinance introduced by the city of Tulsa as likely contributing to a continued "moderate decrease" in new infections. 

"Together, as a county, we can all do this," Dart said. "We need all of our municipalities here in Tulsa County in unison to agree to do this as well, to keep their communities safe, to make sure that we're all going in one direction when it comes to this response."

Dart also said that, despite a recent controversial change to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines on testing, the Tulsa Health Department still encourages asymptomatic people who have been exposed to a positive case to seek out testing.

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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