Tulsa officials said this week new restrictions could be on the way to address skyrocketing local COVID-19 numbers.
Mayor G.T. Bynum and Tulsa Health Department Director Dr. Bruce Dart were asked Thursday about whether capacities at bars, restaurant, houses of worship and other places should be reduced. Dart said data suggest that might be a good move.
"The data’s very clear, and I think you look at data all over the country, it’s really definitive that these are things that, I think, every community should be serious about doing to keep their community safe until we get to the point where pandemic isn’t what we’re here talking about so much," Dart said.
Bynum said a full shutdown like in spring is not being considered. Within weeks of the city’s first identified case of COVID-19 on March 6, Bynum ordered bars and restaurants to close and for Tulsans to stay at home except for essential trips.
A city working group has enforcement of the city’s mask requirement at the top of its list because it’s not working well enough as is. City Councilor Phil Lakin said many businesses are not bothering to require masks.
The city’s current mask mandate requires them to report customers not wearing masks as trespassers to police. Most councilors have been hesitant to burden the police department with broader enforcement of the mask ordinance.
Councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper said during the council's Wednesday night meeting something’s got to give, however, because a public meeting in city hall this week featured no one wearing a mask until they were asked by Bynum.
"If we can’t do that amongst our boards, authorities and commissions, then surely, I just don’t think we’re in a place right now as a city at large-scale events that we would be able to enforce a mask mandate," Hall-Harper said.
Hall-Harper was referring to Winterfest. Organizers moved ice skating inside the BOK Center, and three councilors on Wednesday voted against a routine permit for outdoor portions of the event, citing the worsening pandemic.
Councilor Lori Decter Wright said COVID conditions are much worse now than when the council last considered the event in October. She also noted she has large hospitals in her district.
"I’m listening to the constituents that work in those hospitals, and they are on the front lines and I need to honor what they’re saying They are tired. They’re emotionally drained, they are physically drained, they’re picking up extra shifts, they’re getting sick," Decter Wright said.
Dart was asked Thursday why large events like Winterfest and the BMX Championships are being sanctioned and approved, while private gatherings are being advised against. Dart said if he thinks it’s necessary, the Tulsa Health Department would ask the events to cancel.
"You know, even though they submit plans and we review the plans, we give them recommendations we ask them to follow, we continue to look at the data. And if the data says stop, that’s when we ask them to stop. And that’s what we’ll continue to do as we go forward with all of this," Dart said.
Councilor Crista Patrick said outside of stepping up enforcement of the city's mask mandate, she’d like to approach any more stringent rules for bars and restaurants than those announced by Gov. Kevin Stitt this week carefully to avoid threatening businesses — and because bars are the only person-to-person interaction for many of her constituents right now.
"If we extend something or write something of our own, I would rather avoid closure altogether by looking at maybe reduced occupancy or different measures to ensure that they’re following the mandates that we do put in place," Patrick said.
Any additional local restrictions could be laid out in a special meeting as soon as next week. Lakin told fellow councilors on Wednesday scheduling it will depend on when the city legal department can answer questions about who has authority to enforce various provisions.
"So, if they get us the answers and if things continue to go the way that they are going, then I would not be personally opposed to calling a special meeting," Lakin said.