Despite Pleas From Doctors, Nurses, And Health Director, Bynum Says He Will Not Block Trump Rally

Jun 16, 2020

Calling it a matter of public health, not politics, hundreds of health care providers have signed their names on a letter to Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum, calling on him to prevent President Trump's campaign rally planned for the BOK Center on Saturday.

"As our city and state COVID-19 numbers climb at a rate previously unseen, it is unthinkable that this is seen as a logical choice," reads the letter, dated June 14th and authored by Dr. Jabraan Pasha of the University of Oklahoma Medical Center in Tulsa. "It has the potential to shake our cities [sic] infrastructure and stress our healthcare systems. It will undoubtedly cost lives."

In a statement posted to Facebook on Tuesday, Bynum said he will not do anything to prevent the rally from going ahead.

"We are navigating a balance between freedom and safety that is new for every city around the world," the statement reads. "We will continue to monitor hospital capacity and our positive case rate moving forward." 

Bynum's office did not return repeated requests for comment.

Pasha, a Tulsa native, said that people will almost certainly die because of the rally.

"Really to simplify things," he said, "it's hard to imagine that there are not going to be lives lost directly related to 19,000-plus people gathering in a closed space."

"And one way to look at this is: this is probably going to be the largest gathering that the world has seen since the pandemic started, here in Tulsa, while our numbers are increasing," Pasha said.

Tulsa County's confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 infections have been spiking lately. The county's six largest single-day jumps have all come in the last eight days. 

Dr. Jill Wenger, an ICU physician at Tulsa's Ascension St. John Medical Center, says she is extremely concerned about the threat posed by the rally.

"I worry about our surge capacity at the hospital if these rally attendees do contract the virus," Wenger said. "There's not a lot we can do. It just really worries me."

"If we have another outbreak worse than the one we had before, I worry that we'll look like New York," Wenger said. "I worry that we're going to run out of nurses. That's my fear."

"I know we'll rise to the occasion, but it was really awful during the peak here. It was scary. Talking to patients' families on the phone every day was heartbreaking," said Wenger, adding that she just lost a 33-year-old patient to the virus last week.

"Every colleague, physician and nurse I've spoken to has expressed concern about the rally," said Dr. Darren Thomas of Saint Francis Hospital. "No provider I've spoken to has felt it was fine."

Dr. Bruce Dart, director of the Tulsa Health Department, said Monday that he's "very, very concerned" about the rally and has requested it be postponed.

"I have a responsibility to stand up when things are happening that are, I think, going to be dangerous for our community, and, this, it will be," Dart told a virtual meeting of the Tulsa Public Schools board.

"It hurts my heart to think about the aftermath of what's going to happen," Dart said.

Bynum has not held a press conference since the announcement of the President's rally, which was originally scheduled to coincide with Juneteenth, the holiday celebrating the end of slavery, a decision many in Tulsa's Black community felt was a deliberate provocation. Trump announced a change of date to the following day "out of respect."