City of Tulsa Implements New COVID Measures

Nov 24, 2020

Credit Matt Trotter / KWGS

Updated Nov. 25, 12:40 p.m.

The City of Tulsa has implemented several new measures to address soaring coronavirus infection and hospitalization rates.

Mayor G.T. Bynum signed on Wednesday ordinances passed by the city council Tuesday night.

The measures expand Gov. Kevin Stitt’s order that bars and restaurants keep tables at least 6 feet apart or install dividers to cover other businesses that offer food and beverages on the premises. Councilor Ben Kimbro said other provisions require many other establishments to maintain social distancing between guests, including churches, spas, gyms and retail stores.

"I think that the governor’s order was so narrowly focused that it — in a very pathetic way — just does kind of pick on the bar and restaurant, hospitality industry in Oklahoma. I think it’s a disaster," Kimbro said.

Councilors agreed not to take up enforcement of the portion of Stitt's order telling bars and restaurants to close at 11 p.m.

One provision aims to address businesses simply not requiring masks as laid out by city ordinance. If they don’t, they can be cited for creating public health nuisance.

Councilor Lori Decter Wright said the council isn’t saying customers in line should call police because someone isn’t wearing a mask or isn’t at least 6 feet away.

"But what we are saying is Whole Foods clerk can say, ‘If we get enough complaints that we’re not asking to stay distanced, keep your mask on, offering an accommodation, if you can’t wear a mask we’ll fulfill your grocery order at the door’ — whatever they come up with for their business model — ‘the health department and/or Working In Neighborhoods can cite us, can shut us down,’" Decter Wright said.

Establishments can also be cited for not taking measures to ensure distancing or not implementing sanitation protocols.

While consensus among councilors was businesses are telling them they need some kind of enforcement to help deal with anti-mask customers, in some cases, it’s the employees who need help. Councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper said she’s heard from workers in grocery stores to manufacturing plants where management isn’t taking appropriate steps to protect them from customers or their coworkers.

"And they’re telling me, ‘If I don’t come to work, I’m going to be fired.’ And that’s a very difficult situation to be in, but the question is, what’s being done about that, what can be done about that? And I feel very bad that I can’t tell them that we can’t regulate that, or at least we haven’t up to this point," Hall-Harper said.

Another measure approved by the council lowers the attendance threshold for events needing to submit a COVID safety plan for Tulsa Health Department review from 500 people to 150. The even lower number of 25 was proposed, but THD Director Dr. Bruce Dart recommended 150, partly because of staffing.

"Everyone here is really doing more than one job as it is, and I really feel that 150 is a number that we can control, both from a review, and inspection and certification perspective," Dart said.

City Councilor Connie Dodson said it’s imperative to slow the spread of the coronavirus in Tulsa.

"If we do not start working as a community to battle this virus in an effective way, we are likely headed for another shutdown," Dodson said.

The ordinances took effect when Bynum signed them, though events before Dec. 11 won’t be affected by the safety plan change.