Local & Regional

Tulsa Winterfest

Organizers on Friday pushed back the start of Arvest Winterfest two weeks.

The 13th annual event was set to begin Saturday, but citing support of Mayor G.T. Bynum’s request Thursday for Tulsans to limit public interactions over the next 10 days, the BOK Center announced Friday Winterfest will now start Nov. 30.

Nearly all Republicans in the Oklahoma House signed a letter sent to the Speaker of the Arizona House of Representatives encouraging them to get involved in the 2020 election.

They're calling on that state’s legislature to ensure all legal votes in the state for federal elections are counted and "all illegal votes for the same are rejected."

They encourage Arizona lawmakers to appoint their own electors if necessary. President-elect Joe Biden won Arizona by more than 10,000 votes.

'Almost Impossible': Oklahoma’s Coronavirus Surge Has Made ICU Space Hard to Find

Nov 20, 2020

The Frontier‘s Kassie McClung and Brianna Bailey and StateImpact’s Catherine Sweeney partnered on this story.

As the demand for intensive care among Oklahoma’s coronavirus patients continues to surge, the system is seeing strain from beginning to end — from ambulance services, to small-town hospitals, to the state’s metro health systems.

Tulsa's Victory Church is drawing scrutiny for hosting a large, indoor concert with little mask-wearing this week, as COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations soar and the CDC and White House advise Oklahomans against gathering with those outside their immediate households.

"My reaction to seeing that stuff online is the same as I see it any time that I see folks that aren't taking this seriously," said Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum, asked about the incident at a Thursday press conference.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health reported on Friday 2,921 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the state's total to 167,261.

Tulsa County had 460 of Friday's cases, its second-highest new case total to date. Tulsa County's total now stands at 28,966, second to Oklahoma County's 33,851.

The state's seven-day average of new cases, which shows the trend in infections, rose from 2,807 to 2,843, a new high for the third day in a row. Oct. 5 was the last time the seven-day average was below 1,000.

Twitter / @GovStitt

Despite clear guidance from the CDC and a top White House coronavirus official against such behavior due to the devastating surge in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations, Gov. Kevin Stitt said Thursday he plans to attend a college football game and celebrate Thanksgiving with members of his family outside his immediate household.

"I'm going to be with my family over Thanksgiving. I'm going to do it safely. I'm going to be with my parents. I think Oklahomans should be with their loved ones over Thanksgiving," Stitt said at a press briefing at the state Capitol. 

Friday's top stories:

• The Tulsa Public Schools Board of Education voted Thursday night to reject a recommendation by Superintendent Dr. Deborah Gist on how to proceed with the planned return of 4th, 5th and 6th graders at elementary schools to in-person learning this month. Their vote delays that return to January.

Citing staffing shortages due to the worsening pandemic, sky-high rates of infection in Tulsa County and the likelihood things will get even worse after the Thanksgiving break, the Tulsa Public Schools Board of Education voted Thursday evening to postpone the return to in-person learning for 4th through 6th graders at elementary schools planned for Nov. 30.

Superintendent Dr. Deborah Gist had recommended following through with the plan.

KWGS News Photo

Tulsa Public Schools' Kendall-Whittier Elementary on Thursday moved students to distance learning because of COVID-19.

A letter to families said the school can't offer in-person learning to pre-K through third graders right now because of "staffing challenges and external COVID-19 close contacts."

The school is currently planning for students and staff to return on Dec. 3. They will miss just four days of in-person instruction with the Thanksgiving break and Dec. 2 being a normally planned distance learning day.

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TULSA, Okla. (AP) — The bishop of the Tulsa Diocese said he withdrew his organization from the Oklahoma Conference of Churches last month because the coalition’s anti-racism and discrimination stance doesn’t include what he called “the most marginalized” and discriminated against group in the nation — the unborn.

A global pandemic, social unrest, the killing of a police sergeant and serious wounding of another — in his fourth Tulsa Regional Chamber State of the City, Mayor G.T. Bynum told Tulsans they’ve been through a lot this year, perhaps even more than the first generations of Tulsans whose triumphs over adversity he often points to.

Matt Trotter / KWGS

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.

Facebook / Mayor G.T. Bynum

In separate Thursday press conferences, Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt and Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum each challenged residents of their respective metropolitan areas to agree to 10 days of strict adherence to public health guidelines meant to slow the spread of COVID-19, stressing that hospitals are under severe strain and need citizens to change behaviors immediately to keep from even greater catastrophe.

"Cases are spiking right now across the country, but even in that relative environment, we're not faring well," Holt said.

Twitter / Gov. Kevin Stitt

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The number of hospitalizations in Oklahoma due to the coronavirus surpassed 1,400 on Wednesday for a new daily record, and a surge in cases is linked to Halloween events, according to a report by the White House Coronavirus Task Force.

The state did not restrict trick-or-treating on Halloween and has not limited social gatherings.

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

The Oklahoma State Department of Health reported on Thursday 2,915 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the state's total to 164,340.

Tulsa County had 379 of Thursday's new cases. Its total now stands at 28,506, second to Oklahoma County's 33,309.

The state's seven-day average of new cases, which shows the trend in infections, rose from 2,727 to 2,807, a new high for the second day in a row. Oct. 5 was the last time the seven-day average was below 1,000.

Chris Polansky / KWGS News

Tulsa County District Court Presiding Judge William LaFortune has ordered the suspension of jury trials and some other court activity due to rising COVID-19 rates.

"Due to an increase in Covid-19 infections in Tulsa County and surrounding areas, the following modifications will be instituted," LaFortune wrote in a Nov. 18 internal memo obtained by Public Radio Tulsa.

The memo lists jury trials and preliminary issue hearings as suspended from Nov. 25 until Jan. 11 of next year.

Thursday's top stories:

• More national news coverage of Oklahoma's COVID-19 hospital crisis, as ABC News' World News Tonight and Good Morning America report from an overcapacity ICU in Lawton where doctors are making do with limited resources and supplies.
• Another city of Tulsa employee has died of COVID-19. 911 dispatcher Joey Phillips was 52.

Tulsa Public Schools

Tulsa Public Schools will not allow spectators at winter sports until at least December because of COVID-19’s current high rate of spread locally.

Oklahoma City Public Schools suspended winter sports indefinitely last week for the same reason.

Athletics Director Gil Cloud said he has confidence in TPS coaches after they had to call off just two football games thsi fall because of COVID within a district team.

The Owasso City Council on Tuesday night passed a resolution strongly encouraging citizens to wear masks and businesses to require them in order to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The resolution also gives businesses legal cover to require masks by pledging the Owasso Police Department’s support through enforcing trespassing laws.

City Manager Warren Lehr made clear before the council’s vote, however, there is no legal requirement for anyone to wear or require masks.

Tulsa Police

Another Tulsa public servant has died of COVID-19.

City officials announced late Tuesday night that 52-year-old Joey Phillips, a 911 dispatcher on the job for 23 years, had died from the disease.

"The Tulsa Fire Department has lost one of our great dispatchers. The voice that kept you safe and informed. The last voice that told you to 'wear your seatbelts'  when you went out on a call. Rest well Joey Phillips. We'll take it from here," Capt. Lorenzer Holmes Jr. wrote in a Facebook post shared by the Tulsa Fire Department.

ABC World News Tonight

Oklahoma continues to attract attention from national news networks due to the severity of its COVID-19 pandemic.

ABC News' World News Tonight and Good Morning America were in Lawton Tuesday, reporting from the COVID-19 ward at Comanche County Memorial Hospital, where Chief Medical Officer Dr. Scott Michener said they were operating at over 100% ICU capacity.

City of Broken Arrow

Despite worsening COVID-19 numbers as the pandemic heightens to its direst point ever in Oklahoma and nationwide, the Broken Arrow City Council Tuesday showed little interest in pursuing the sort of mandatory mask ordinance passed by Tulsa, Jenks and Sapulpa, spending more time at their meeting asserting false claims about masks and the pandemic, and calling for more civility on "both sides" of the issue.

file photo

Union Public Schools buses are not running Thursday or Friday because of staffing issues from COVID-19.

About 45% of the district’s entire transportation department — including mechanics and office staff — is currently in isolation or quarantine for the illness.

The suspension of service affects about 2,500 students. Tulsa Tech students who catch a bus from Union High School will not be affected. 

Union secondary school and Boevers Elementary students are currently on distance learning because of staffing shortages from COVID-19.

Ben Felder, investigative reporter at nonprofit news organization The Frontier, spoke with Public Radio Tulsa about his recent reporting on Gov.

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Gov. Kevin Stitt announced Tuesday the hiring of Amanda Rodriguez, a longtime accountant for Chesapeake Energy, for the new role of chief financial officer for the state of Oklahoma.

Stitt said in a press release Rodriguez will oversee the development of the executive budget and work with the governor’s cabinet to improve financial reporting.

Rodriguez worked as an accountant for Chesapeake Energy since 2007 and for the last two years as internal audit manager.

NIAID-RML

The Oklahoma State Department of Health reported on Wednesday 3,017 new cases of COVID-19, the third-highest new case report to date, bringing the state's total to 161,425.

Tulsa County had 398 of Wednesday's new cases, also its third-highest number of new cases to date. Its total now stands at 28,127, second to Oklahoma County's 32,578.

Wednesday's top stories:

• Tulsa Public Schools plans to hold an emergency meeting to discuss potential action amid soaring COVID-19 rates and some classrooms being forced into distance learning due to virus exposure or infection.
• TPS Board Member John Croisant swung back at Gov. Kevin Stitt for saying he wished he could force the district to resume in-person learning for all students by January.

Matt Trotter / KWGS

As of Monday night’s Tulsa Public Schools Board meeting, 10 out of 221 pre-K and kindergarten classes that returned last week had been moved to distance learning because of COVID-19 exposure.

Deputy Superintendent Paula Shannon said all of those exposures happened outside of schools and because a student came into contact with or lives with an adult who tested positive.

At a news conference Monday announcing new statewide measures to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Gov. Kevin Stitt said one of his goals was getting all schools back in person by the start of next year.

"Tulsa Public Schools, for example, has not been back in school this entire year, since last March. It breaks my heart what’s happening to those kids in the Tulsa Public Schools area," Stitt said.

Broken Arrow Police

A man serving life in prison for killing five family members in their Broken Arrow home in 2015 has been given three additional life sentences for attacking prison staff last July.

A Cleveland County judge ordered now-24-year-old Robert Bever to serve three concurrent life sentences that will run consecutively to his six previously life sentences. Bever pleaded guilty in August to charges of assault and battery and possessing a weapon in prison after attacking staff with an 8-inch long sharpened instrument.

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