Speaking just minutes after the director of the Tulsa Health Department reiterated his belief that the president's reelection rally this week should be postponed due to surging coronavirus numbers in Oklahoma and Tulsa County, Mayor G.T. Bynum said at a press conference Wednesday that while he can't guarantee anyone's safety, he will not act to prevent the rally from taking place.
"I want to be clear -- I'm not positive that everything is safe," Bynum told reporters at Tulsa Police headquarters. "I'm not a public health professional. I'm not here to testify to the safety of anything."
Still, Bynum held up President Donald Trump's visit as a "tremendous honor" for the city, and said that Tulsans should be more concerned about their fellow citizens' everyday lack of responsibility -- not wearing masks and failing to keep social distancing -- than about the dangers posed by the rally or by recent protests following the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
Asked about a letter signed by hundreds of Oklahoma health care providers, which asks Bynum to step in and prevent the rally due to fears that already spiking COVID-19 numbers in the state could spiral out of control, Bynum said he had not received it.
Dr. Bruce Dart, Tulsa Health Department director, echoed the concerns of the overwhelming majority of public health authorities, including Dr. Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes for Health and the president's own coronavirus task force, in cautioning that a large, indoor gathering such as the president's rally at the BOK Center could be a "superspreader" event, sickening and even killing many more people.
"If we could push it back until when it's safer, that's what I'd like to see happen," Dart said. Speaking to the Tulsa Public Schools board on Monday, Dart called the rally "dangerous," and said "it hurts my heart to think of the aftermath."
Prompted by a reporter's question, Tulsa County Commissioner Karen Keith agreed that other local leaders are letting Tulsa County residents down by not doing more to prevent the rally, which she estimates will bring upwards of 100,000 people to the city.
"We should have done any and everything that we could to move this to some other time," Keith said. "Because as you all heard, our numbers are spiking. This could be a superspreader.
"Two weeks after this event, I can promise you that we are going to see issues in this community," she added.
Despite recommendations by Fauci, Dart, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other public health officials, the Trump campaign has said they will not require the wearing of masks inside the arena on Saturday. Temperatures will be taken at the entrances and hand sanitizer will be made available, they said.
The state of Oklahoma and Tulsa County once again set records for new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday.
The state health department reported 259 new cases statewide, surpassing the previous one-day high of 225 set Saturday. The state has 8,904 cases to date.
Tulsa County accounted for 96 of the state's new cases. The county's previous record, 89 new cases, was set Monday. Tulsa County now has 1,825 cases of COVID-19.
Watch the entire press conference with Mayor Bynum, Dr. Dart, Commissioner Keith, and Tulsa Police Department Chief Wendell Franklin here.