With new coronavirus infections increasing more rapidly among younger people than other demographics, Dr. Bruce Dart of the Tulsa Health Department said that the return to school for districts in Tulsa County should be all-virtual for now due to the severity of the local outbreak.
"The data is telling us today that gatherings are dangerous, so the safer option is virtual learning," Dart said. "We also know that in-classroom learning is a much better platform to allow kids to learn, but right now if we're speaking strictly about the virus, and keeping children and faculty and staff safe, our recommendation today would be to use the virtual platform."
Dart said that the recommendation may change if trends improve as a result of the community taking measures like mask-wearing in the coming weeks.
Dart clarified that the department has no power over school districts.
"People seem to think that the health department has the ability to tell schools what to do, and we truly don't," Dart said "We're here to provide recommendations."
Dart said more than half of all COVID-19 cases in Tulsa County are under the age of 35, about 30% of all hospitalizations are under the age of 50, and that the infection total for children between 5 and 17 is rising. Dart said the youngest patient hospitalized so far is a 1-year-old child.
Earlier this month, the Oklahoma State Board of Education voted down a recommendation from Superintendent Joy Hofmeister that would have provided a uniform, madatory set of guidelines and protocol for districts, leaving decisions completely up to local school boards.
In Green Country, districts' plans are mixed. Broken Arrow Public Schools says it will allow all students to return for in-person learning. Bixby and Union Public Schools both say they plan to do the same. Tulsa Public Schools is set to vote on their plan on Monday; Superintendent Deborah Gist has recommended an all-virtual start.
Oklahoma City Public Schools has already announced they will not hold in-person classes until November at the earliest.