Local & Regional

Matt Trotter / KWGS

A member of Gov. Kevin Stitt’s cabinet and two state lawmakers have tested positive for COVID-19.

Secretary of Digital Transformation and Administration David Ostrowe was tested after a prolonged, high fever. The governor’s office says he is following quarantine procedures at home and has not been in contact with Stitt in more than two weeks.

In the legislature, Rep. Jason Lowe and Sen. Paul Rosino said they have tested positive for COVID-19 but are doing well and recovering.

U.S. Air Force

A day after ordering nonessential businesses closed in counties with cases of COVID-19, Gov. Kevin Stitt broadened his list of those considered essential.

Thursday's top stories:

  • Oklahoma K–12 students will not go back to their classrooms this year.
  • Tulsa Public Schools has been making plans for distance learning and expects some bumps in the road.
  • COVID-19 cases in Oklahoma increase to 164, with five dead and 59 hospitalized.

TPS

Tulsa Public Schools officials have been talking to other districts about their experiences switching to distance learning ahead of Wednesday's decision by the State Board of Education to keep Oklahoma schools closed the rest of the year.

"It’s not going to be super-smooth, I think is the way to summarize what we’ve heard from some of the very best districts in the country and what they’ve done," said TPS Superintendent Deborah Gist. "It’s been challenging. And so, that’s one of the main messages we’ve heard from them is, 'Be prepared to solve a lot of problems.'"

Several new rules won approval on Wednesday from the Oklahoma State Board of Education.

Some are emergency measures to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, including an extension to how long a teacher can be emergency certified.

Oklahoma Watch

Oklahoma K–12 students will not go back to their classrooms this school year.

The State Board of Education approved a plan Wednesday to keep schools closed and shift to distance learning. Some parents wanted officials to wait a couple weeks to see how the COVID-19 pandemic plays out, but State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said the decision had to be made now.

"It isn’t possible for districts to flip a switch and shift into that kind of delivery of education without advance notice," Hofmeister said.

Department of Defense

New figures from the Oklahoma State Department of Health on Wednesday show five people in the state have now died from COVID-19 and Tulsa County's number of reported cases has more than doubled, going from 12 to 27.

A man in his 70s and a man in his 40s in Oklahoma County account for the two new deaths. There have been 59 people hospitalized for the illness.

WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — Aircraft parts maker Spirit Aerosystems announced Tuesday that it was temporarily halting work for Boeing performed in Tulsa, McAlester and Wichita facilities amid an outbreak of the coronavirus.

The move came after Boeing announced Monday that it was suspending operations at its Seattle area facilities. At least 110 people have died from COVID-19 in Washington state, mostly in the Seattle area. Boeing employs about 70,000 people in the region. The company said 32 employees have tested positive for the virus, including 25 in the greater Seattle area.

Wikipedia

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Bill Braum, founder of Braum’s Ice Cream and Dairy Stores that has grown to nearly 300 outlets in five states, has died, the company announced Tuesday. He was 92.

Braum died Monday at his home in Tuttle, Oklahoma, the company said in a statement.

Braum grew up in Emporia, Kansas, where he worked for the small butter and milk processing plant his father ran. After selling the company he had inherited, Braum launched the chain bearing his name in 1968 with 22 Oklahoma stores.

Wednesday's top stories:

  • In a series of new orders to deal with COVID-19, Gov. Kevin Stitt tells vulnerable populations to stay home, closes nonessential businesses in affected counties.
  • Democratic lawmakers, medical groups and citizens press Stitt for a statewide shelter-in-place order.
  • Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum expands his executive order prohibiting gatherings of 10 or more people.

Matt Trotter / KWGS

Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum on Tuesday expanded his executive order banning gatherings of 10 or more people in Tulsa.

It previously applied only to city facilities.

"Moving forward, there are to be no groups in any facilities or elsewhere in Tulsa of 10 or more people, and that will be enforced by the Tulsa police department," Bynum said.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Oklahoma’s efforts to ramp up COVID-19 testing could hit a snag if supply bottlenecks persist.

Deputy State Secretary of Science and Innovation Elizabeth Pollard said they are pursuing testing materials from commercial sources.

"Here we can get reagents from outside of just our government allocation and be able to run tests on commercial platforms that we have available in the state to be able to meet the demand that we have," Pollard said.

covidactnow.org

Medical associations, Democratic state representatives and thousands of citizens are pushing Gov. Kevin Stitt to issue a statewide shelter-in-place order.

House Minority Leader Emily Virgin said it must be done to curb the spread of COVID-19, a threat Oklahoma has yet to fully grasp.

"From everything we’ve seen, our situation is worse than what the official numbers are telling us because we haven’t had access to an adequate number of tests," Virgin said.

Courtesy

Updated March 25, 5:35 a.m.  

Gov. Kevin Stitt took a number of new actions Tuesday to deal with COVID-19, including issuing an order requiring vulnerable populations to stay home until April 30.

The "safer at home" order applies to people with "serious underlying medical conditions" and those 65 and older.

Updated March 24, 3:05 p.m. 

A third Oklahoman has died of COVID-19, and the state surged to 109 reported cases on Tuesday.

A Cleveland County woman in her 60s has died, and 25 people are hospitalized with the illness. COVID-19 has been reported in 19 counties now.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health reported 106 cases in its daily update, but during a news conference Tuesday afternoon, officials said there are 109 cases.

Oklahoma County still has the most cases, 41, followed by Cleveland with 22 and Tulsa with 12.

File photo

The Tulsa Public Schools Board on Monday officially moved to postpone next month’s runoff elections for two seats until June 30.

School boards and other local entities are allowed to reschedule their April 7 elections because of the COVID-19 pandemic under an emergency declaration from the State Election Board secretary.

TPS Board member Suzanne Schreiber said while moving back the election is a difficult choice, it’s the right one, considering most poll workers are older Tulsans with higher risk of serious cases of COVID-19.

Bixby becomes the latest city to order bars closed and restaurants to offer only takeout or delivery service as Oklahoma responds to the COVID-19 pandemic.

An emergency ordinance also closes movie theaters, gyms and entertainment venues; prohibits public gatherings of more than 10 people; and specifies city meetings will be held by teleconference.

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An Oklahoma man was sentenced Monday to 25 years in prison after being convicted of trying to blow up an Oklahoma City bank with a massive vehicle bomb, according to federal prosecutors.

Jerry Drake Varnell, 26, of Sayre, was sentenced in federal court in Oklahoma City. When he is released from prison, he’ll be under supervision for the rest of his life.

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Seven national organizations representing patients with serious medical conditions have criticized Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt for rolling out his Medicaid expansion plan during the coronavirus pandemic.

The organizations, including the American Heart Association and The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, released a statement calling for the state to withdraw its application immediately.

Tuesday's top stories:

  • Oklahoma schools may remain closed through the rest of the school year.
  • The number of reported cases of COVID-19 in Oklahoma continues to climb.
  • Officials anticipate a big hit to Oklahoma's budget between the economic impact of the pandemic and an ongoing oil slump.

Wikipedia

Oklahoma students are unlikely to step back into a classroom this spring as the state fights COVID-19 with massive school closures.

State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister is proposing the State Board of Education approve a plan for Oklahoma kids to complete the school year through distance learning. That would keep schools closed the rest of the school year.

City of Tulsa

A test excavation in Tulsa's search for mass graves from the 1921 race massacre has been postponed because of the COVID-19 threat.

OU archaeologists were set to explore a section of Oaklawn Cemetery starting April first, but that has been postponed indefinitely.

City officials say the work will happen once the pandemic threat has passed, as will additional above-ground scanning at Rolling Oaks Memorial Gardens. The city said the owner has signed an agreement with OU for the investigation after a months-long holdout.

Hundreds of Tulsa-area workers are seeing their hours or their jobs cut with restaurants limited to takeout and delivery service in several cities.

The Lobeck Taylor Family Foundation has launched a Tulsa Restaurant Employee Relief Fund to help them make ends meet.

"Our goal is to provide immediate relief to those restaurant workers who cannot make their hourly wages and to do so as quickly as possible," said LTFF President and CEO Elizabeth Frame Ellison.

Mental Health Association Oklahoma launched free, virtual support groups on Monday.

The groups themselves are not new, but offering them via Zoom videoconferencing is.

"Because of social distancing, we were not going to be able to host our support groups in person. And so, we started looking at alternative ways to achieve the same purpose and the same intention without meeting in person," said MHAOK Director of Outreach, Prevention and Education Rebecca Hubbard.

Oklahoma faces a one-two economic punch: Thousands of workers could be unemployed from COVID-19-related business cuts or closings, and the price of oil is stuck in the $23 range.

The situation could hit state spending in the current fiscal year.

"It’s possible we could have what we call a revenue failure. We are working with the House and the Senate to how we would address that," said Gov. Kevin Stitt.

Oklahoma currently has about $1 billion in savings between its two reserve funds, the Rainy Day Fund and the Revenue Stabilization Fund.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Oklahoma has another 14 reported cases of COVID-19, five of them in Tulsa County.

That brings the state’s total number of reported cases to 81. Those have resulted in 15 hospitalizations and two deaths.

Oklahoma County continues to lead the state with 29 reported cases, while Cleveland County now has 16 and Tulsa County has 11. There are now 17 counties with reported cases of the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

Nearly half of Oklahoma’s reported cases are in people younger than 50.

Tulsa Community Foundation and Tulsa Area United Way are raising money for a COVID-19 Response Fund.

Tulsa Area United Way President and CEO Alison Anthony said as the economy suffers during the pandemic, people are losing their jobs.

"They may have additional food costs. They may have additional child care needs. They may not be able to do the day-to-day things that they normally do because of lost wages," Anthony said.

Monday's top stories:

  • State officials say COVID-19 testing will ramp up this week.
  • The Oklahoma Senate will remain closed as members continue waiting for test results.
  • Tulsa officials are wary of returning spring break travelers and urge caution.

State of Oklahoma

The Oklahoma Senate will remain closed this week.

Senators and some staff were tested for COVID-19 last week after learning they were potentially exposed to the illness.

According to a statement from Senate President Pro Tem Greg Treat, those tests, done by OU Medicine, have not come back yet due to overwhelming demand on the private lab they were sent to.

Treat said senators are continuing their work, but no plans have been made for when the 2020 session or the state budget will be completed.

Sand Springs has enacted business restrictions to deal with COVID-19.

The action follows an emergency declaration and request for voluntary closings and limits on patrons by Mayor James Spoon.

Restaurants and bars with dining rooms are now limited to takeout and delivery, and gyms and entertainment venues are closed.

Spas, barber shops and tattoo parlors can stay open by appointment only.

The restrictions are in place until May 11, but the city can lift them before then.

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