Chris Polansky

News Anchor & Reporter

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.

 

His most recent stint at an NPR member station was as a general assignment reporter at Utah Public Radio in Logan, Utah, in 2019. His stories have also appeared in/on Gothamist / WNYC, the NPR national newscast, and the Brooklyn Eagle.

 

Chris is a New Jersey native and perpetually disappointed Mets fan who spent just about ten years in New York City before coming to Tulsa. He likes hiking and camping with his dog, Trout Fishing in America. He’s also a proud alumnus of Bike & Build, an affordable housing nonprofit with which he’s bicycled coast-to-coast twice: from Portland, Maine, to Santa Barbara (2014), and from Nags Head, North Carolina, to San Diego (2016). Both trips crossed Oklahoma. 

Ways to Connect

Facebook / @CottonElectric

According to a trade association, rural electric cooperatives provide power to 1 in every 8 Americans, and the industry faces dire numbers due to the coronavirus pandemic, with an estimated loss of $7.4 billion in revenue.

For Cotton Electric Cooperative, which powers 22,000 meters across eight Oklahoma counties from its headquarters in Walters, that could spell trouble.

Facebook / @OfficialFtSill

Speaking on a livestream town hall, Fort Sill's seventh such event throughout the coronavirus crisis, Commanding General Kenneth Kamper said Tuesday that, as much as he might want to get back to normal on post, it just isn't time yet.

"I want to lift it as much as you want it lifted," Kamper said, in response to a question about when and whether Fort Sill leadership is considering ending a ban on travel outside a 60-mile radius from the installation. 

But, he added, it's too early, and data from nearby places confirm that.

Google Maps Street View

In a late Tuesday statement, Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum said IC Bus, a major manufacturer in Tulsa, and its parent company, Navistar, are mounting a "false campaign" in accusing City Hall of threatening their facility with eviction.

Under the name "Save Tulsa Jobs," Navistar released a statement saying that "the City of Tulsa is threatening to evict IC Bus from its school bus manufacturing facility at the Tulsa International Airport, a move which would cost the city and the state of Oklahoma 1,600 jobs."

Wednesday's top stories:

  • The Oklahoma legislature has approved a 30-day extension of Governor Kevin Stitt's emergency powers meant to help the state deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter has sent a letter to the federal government warning that Governor Stitt is acting unlawfully with regard to gaming compacts between the state and two Indian nations.
  • Nine more dead Oklahomans reported by the state's health department raise the state's COVID-19 death toll to 247.

Instagram / @tulsazoo

Moving forward, Tulsa Zoo President and CEO Terrie Correll and other zoo professionals may be wise to be careful what they wish for.

"Every zookeeper's dream is to have the zoo to yourself," Correll said Tuesday during a virtual meeting of the City of Tulsa's Parks and Recreation Department, "and we've got it now."

Closed since mid-March due to restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic, the zoo has faced its share of difficulty , Correll said.

Facebook / Gov. Kevin Stitt

This story was updated at 4:48 p.m. on Tuesday, May 5th, to include a new response from Baylee Lakey, communications director for the governor.

In an opinion released at the request of the Oklahoma legislature's two most senior Republicans and a separate letter to a federal cabinet secretary, Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter on Tuesday dug in deeper on his charge that Governor Kevin Stitt, a fellow Republican, acted unlawfully last month in signing gaming compacts between the state and two Indian governments.

Google Street View

This story was updated at 2:17 p.m. on Tuesday, May 5th, to reflect a response received after publication from Sean Livengood, who is both the mayor of Guymon and a Seaboard Foods employee. Livengood declined comment.

A pork processing plant in Guymon, Okla., is reporting an outbreak of COVID-19 among its plant workers, the latest plant across the country to be struck with cases of the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

Tuesday's top stories:

  • The Republican leaders of the state legislature announced a $7.8 budget containing cuts to most agencies.
  • The head of the Oklahoma Senate Appropriations Committee says Governor Stitt is not being forthcoming with how the state is spending federal coronavirus relief money.
  • No new deaths were reported Monday, but Oklahoma has now surpassed 4,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19.

Google Street View

The Tulsa Board of County Commissioners announced that a resolution limiting public access to the Tulsa County Courthouse due to the coronavirus pandemic will expire on Monday, May 3rd, with a phased reopening beginning the morning of Tuesday, May 4th.

Actual courtrooms, housed physically in the building but under the jurisdiction of the Oklahoma Supreme Court, will remain closed, but some county services and departments housed in the building, like the county clerk, assessor, and treasurer, will begin to receive the public.

Tulsa City Hall

Furloughs affecting about 1,000 municipal employees, meant to help mitigate lost revenue caused by the coronavirus pandemic, will begin in Tulsa this Friday.

Michelle Brooks, communications director for the City of Tulsa, said the average Tulsan won't see much in the way of reduction in services, and no reduction at all in emergency services. 

"This does not impact public safety: our police, fire, 911, our utilities services," Brooks said. "Citizens are not going to see an impact there."

Monday's top stories:

Metro Pentecostal Church in Tulsa has lost several congregants and at least one pastor to COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus currently spreading throughout Oklahoma, the country, and the world. One member spent 31 days on a ventilator. The head pastor fought and recovered from the illness.

Still, on Sunday, it became one of the first churches in Tulsa to reopen for in person worship service following Governor Kevin Stitt's orders to allow houses of worship to begin welcoming back congregations.

Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality

The Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality is warning that there may be more health hazards in reopening businesses than just the coronavirus.

The department has issued guidelines for businesses that have been closed, or even just using less water than usual, due to the pandemic, urging them to flush taps to avoid using water that may have been tainted by corrosion or bacteria, like the kind that could cause Legionnaire's Disease.

Google Street View

So far, the federal government has approved $660 billion in funding for small business loans through the Paycheck Protection Program. On Thursday, April 30th, Larry Weatherford, Oklahoma district public affairs specialist for the U.S. Small Business Administration, which administers the program, spoke with KWGS about the program's successes and criticisms, and encouraged any Oklahoma small business owners who haven't yet applied for assistance to do so as soon as possible before funding runs out.

Friday's top stories:

  • Governor Stitt says the state of Oklahoma has "plenty of tests," and that anyone who wants one, whether or not they have symptoms, can get one. The State Department of Health says they aim to test 2% of the state's population by the end of May.
  • The ACLU of Oklahoma is alleging that the governor's office and the Oklahoma Department of Corrections are downplaying and ignoring threats of COVID-19 outbreaks throughout the state's prisons and jails.
  • Oklahoma has now confirmed 3,618 cases of COVID-19, with 222 deaths.

Libby Billings courtesy Libby Billings; Thomas Hunter courtesy Oklahoma Restaurant Association

Following prolonged mandated closures due to the coronavirus pandemic, and with the blessings of both Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt and a reluctant Mayor G.T. Bynum, Tulsa restaurants will be permitted starting Friday to welcome guests back to eat in their dining rooms.

Not too many are seizing that opportunity, though.

"Absolutely not," said restaurateur Libby Billings, whose downtown Tulsa eateries include The Vault, Roppongi, and Elote. 

InmateAid.com

The Oklahoma chapter of the American Civil Liberties Association has alleged that Governor Kevin Stitt and Oklahoma Department of Corrections Director Scott Crow are knowingly downplaying the risk of the coronavirus to both staff and people in custody at the state's correctional facilities.

Thursday's top stories:

Tech. Sgt. Kasey M. Phipps / Courtesy Oklahoma Air National Guard

The head of the Oklahoma National Guard said Wednesday that the Guard will ramp up its mission to provide assistance to the state's nursing homes and longterm health care facilities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We started out with two teams that were going out to disinfect nursing home facilities across Oklahoma," said Maj. Gen. Michael Thompson, the adjutant general of the Guard. "I think those teams have grown to four, and potentially might go a little higher because you know that's an incredibly vulnerable population we have with our elderly citizens."

Flickr / Joseph Novak, licensed under CC BY 2.0

An executive order signed by President Trump on Tuesday could mean some support for the nation's — and Oklahoma's — beleaguered meat industry as it weathers the coronavirus pandemic.

Wednesday's top stories:

  • Governor Stitt is continuing to defend his decision to reopen Oklahoma's economy, despite warnings from many public health experts.
  • Oklahoma is up to 3,410 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with 207 confirmed deaths.
  • Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter is requesting an investigation into the Oklahoma State Department of Health.

Anadisgoi / Cherokee Nation

In a donation spurred by what he called a "dire need of assistance," Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. ordered 5,000 protective facemasks to be sent to Navajo Nation, where COVID-19 rates continue to climb rapidly.

"Today it's the Navajo Nation that's in desperate need," Hoskin said on a Tuesday phone call from Tahlequah, Okla., the Cherokee capital. "The next time around, it could be the Cherokee Nation, and we would want other Indian nations to be there for us."

Justin Russell on Flickr, licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

In a letter to President Donald Trump on Friday, Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt requested that the White House declare an "Act of God," a legal maneuver the governor said is "a necessary step to encourage and support those operators who choose to stop production until demand returns and storage becomes readily available." 

Oil and gas industry insiders are split on whether that's true. 

Monday's top stories:

Dr. Bruce Dart, director of the Tulsa Health Department, told the Tulsa World on Monday that each patient in Tulsa County who tests positive for COVID-19 provides an average of 36 potentially exposed persons for the department to trace.

Twitter/@QuikTrip

Weeks after a 22-year-old assistant manager at a Tulsa location of the Oklahoma-based convenience store and gas station chain QuikTrip died of COVID-19, the company has announced it is seeking to hire new assistant managers for its Tulsa stores.

"We look forward to expanding our hometown team of employees in the Tulsa area with hardworking, service-oriented people," a company representative said in a press release.

Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington

Oklahoma has already begun reopening following a plan by Governor Kevin Stitt, but a team of health researchers estimate that the state is still over 50 days away from the earliest date when it would be safe to ease restrictions intended to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus.

In a webinar hosted by the Tulsa Regional Chamber on Monday, U.S. Sen. James Lankford (R-OK) said he fears that the amount of money paid out to Americans as federal unemployment benefits under new coronavirus legislation may be overly generous and bad economic policy.

"That's been the challenge of unemployment during this time period," Lankford said. "That we have a disincentive to get back to work." 

Andy Watson, photo courtesy of Bull Stock Media

With strict safety protocols in place — and no fans in attendance — the Professional Bull Riders brought live sporting events back to Oklahoma.

Forty-one cowboys competed at the Lazy E Arena in Guthrie in a two-day event televised on CBS Sports News. Sean Gleason, PBR's CEO, said that the organization did everything it could to be able to hold the event safely. 

"For 40 days," Gleason said in a video posted to Twitter, "we've been at it 15 hours a day to get to this point where we have a safe and responsible plan to get back to bucking."

Oklahoma State Department of Health

Even as Oklahoma businesses begin to reopen under a plan by Governor Kevin Stitt, numbers of coronavirus cases in the state continue to climb.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health reported Sunday an increase of 60 confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, bringing the state total to 3,253.

They also reported one additional death, bringing the known death toll to 195.

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