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Tulsa ICUs 'Maxed Out' As Mayor Pleads For More Action From Governor

Chris Polansky
Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum at a press conference at Tulsa Police headquarters on Aug. 20.

Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum issued a late-night statement Monday following reports from the Emergency Medical Services Authority (EMSA) that the city's hospitals had zero ICU beds available and a report from the Oklahoma State Department of Health showing a record-breaking number of COVID-19 patients hospitalized across Oklahoma.

"Tonight I have been in communication with the State Department of Health, the Tulsa Health Department, and local hospital leadership. Hospitals are enacting their surge plans for managing ICU patient care on a regional basis," Bynum said. "Just as our health care system is a regional one, our response to fighting COVID-19 must be a regional one too.

"Tulsans can not fight this on our own. I again implore the state and our neighboring communities to listen to those medical professionals asking for steps to be taken that will slow the spread of this virus. Politically convenient speeches about freedom and personal responsibility are not preventing our ICUs from being maxed out."

Hospital leaders and public health experts have been sounding alarms for weeks over strains on the state's hospital system. In an interview with KRMG Radio last week, Gov. Kevin Stitt said he did not believe hospitals had capacity issues, and accused people claiming otherwise of "fearmongering." 

At an interim study at the state capitol Monday, Oklahoma National Guard Lt. Col. Matt Stacy, in charge of the state's hospital surge plan, said he hoped hospitals would discontinue messaging meant "to scare Oklahomans."

At a press conference held via Zoom Monday, Oklahoma State Department of Health Commissioner Lance Frye did not answer direct questions about what steps he was recommending the governor take to address the pandemic. Frye dismissed the idea of a statewide mask mandate, which the Oklahoma State Medical Association, the chief COVID officer at OU Health, health officials from local governments across Oklahoma and even the Trump White House have called on Oklahoma to implement.

"It's a personal responsibility, it's a social responsibility, and everyone needs to do it," Frye said of wearing a mask. "I don't think a mandate is going to help that situation."

Frye made those remarks shortly after testifying in a room inside the state capitol at an interim study where he, other health department officials and some lawmakers did not wear masks at all times.

Stitt has not held a press conference or news briefing about the pandemic in 21 days. His last was Oct. 20 in Oklahoma City. The governor's office announced he will hold one Tuesday afternoon at 2:00 p.m.

Bynum's office said in a note attached to the mayor's statement that Tulsa officials will hold their own press conference at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Oklahoma House Democrats also plan to hold a press conference at the capitol at 11:00 a.m. Tuesday to call for a statewide mask mandate.

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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