Local & Regional

Oklahoma COVID Hospitalizations Again Top 1,500

Aug 25, 2021
Photo from World Health Organization

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The number of coronavirus hospitalizations in Oklahoma on Wednesday topped 1,500 for the first time since January, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health, as the highly contagious delta variant spreads in the state.

There were 1,578 people hospitalized due to the virus, including 416 in intensive care, with 2,534 newly reported virus cases for a total of 534,922 since the pandemic began, according to the health department.

CVS Health

The City of Tulsa is considering putting federal virus relief money toward vaccination incentives, but only for city employees.

A working group is set to propose a $250 payment to employees who have been fully vaccinated or who get fully vaccinated. Employees in departments where 70% of workers get vaccinated would get an additional $250.

The incentives would be paid for from the city’s nearly $88 million allocation from the American Rescue Plan.

Matt Trotter / KWGS

Updated Aug. 25, 11:35 p.m.

Lacking the votes to immediately implement a new mask mandate, Tulsa city councilors supporting the proposal asked their colleagues on Wednesday to join them on a nonbinding resolution strongly encouraging people to follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

That resolution passed unanimously Wednesday night.

Facebook / Rep. Kevin Hern

President Joe Biden and congressional Democrats' budget resolution for a $3.5 trillion spending plan, which passed the House of Representatives Tuesday on a party line vote, does not have any fans among Oklahoma's all-Republican House delegation.

Chris Polansky / KWGS News

Perennial political candidate and attention seeker Paul Tay was arrested in Tulsa on Monday evening on charges of first-degree rape, kidnapping and assault with a dangerous weapon, police in Tulsa announced Tuesday.

In a statement, the Tulsa Police Department said Tay, 58, drove to Bethany to pick up a woman who had responded to a Craigslist ad seeking staff for one of his political campaigns.

Department of Justice

PHOENIX (AP) — An Oklahoma man seen on video pushing an Associated Press photographer over a wall outside the Capitol during the Jan. 6 riot has been arrested, authorities said Tuesday. 

Benjamen Scott Burlew of Miami, Oklahoma, is the second person to be charged with attacking photographer John Minchillo, who was documenting the mob of former President Donald Trump’s supporters that day. 

Wednesday's top stories:

• The Tulsa City Council is scheduled to decide on a potential new mandatory mask ordinance for the city in response to soaring COVID-19 infection and hospitalization levels.

• With more and more Oklahoma COVID patients needing intensive care, hospitals are struggling to adequately staff the units.

• A Miami, Okla., man was arrested for an alleged assault on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol during the Jan. 6 insurrection. 

University of Mississippi

COVID ICU admissions are hitting record levels in Oklahoma, and there is a staffing shortage in hospitals. Jill McSparrin is an ICU nurse with INTEGRIS. She spoke today at a Healthier Oklahoma press conference.

“We’re already short on nurses and now several of my colleagues are really seriously thinking about retiring early, finding another area of nursing, or finding a new career altogether. I feel like we're having some PTSD. We're having depression, anxiety, restlessness.”

Data from the Centers For Disease Control; photo from https://fshoq.com

What plans are hospitals in Tulsa following for elective surgeries now during COVID-19?  

Ascension St. John has publicly announced its services “may require” adjustments, while media reports say the hospital has internally communicated cancellations. Hillcrest Hospital and Saint Francis Hospital say they’re evaluating electives on a patient-by-patient basis. 

Redistricting Leaders Say Oklahoma Maps Must Be Redrawn

Aug 24, 2021

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Newly drawn Oklahoma House districts approved by the Legislature earlier this year will have to be redrawn based on the latest census data, House and Senate leaders said.

The announcement by the House and Senate redistricting committee chairs follows the release of U.S. Census Bureau data that shows population increases in urban and suburban parts of Oklahoma.

Ten Tulsa breweries are asking city councilors to reinstitute a citywide mask mandate on Wednesday.

The breweries are American Solera, Cabin Boys, Dead Armadillo, Eerie Abbey Ales, Heirloom Rustic Ales, Marshall Brewing, Neff Brewery, Nothing’s Left, Pippin’s Taproom and Renaissance Brewing — collectively, the Tulsa Craft Brewery Alliance.

Tuesday's top stories:

• The Oklahoma State Department of Health says they hope full FDA approval of Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine helps increase uptake in the state.

• Saint Francis Health System says they are continuing to struggle under the weight of a near-record number of COVID patients.

• The Oklahoma Poison Center is asking Oklahomans not to eat livestock medication in an attempt to treat or prevent COVID-19, despite what they may have seen on Youtube or Facebook.

Matt Trotter / KWGS

The Redbud Valley Nature Preserve is closing to the public until May 2022.

The closure is effective Aug. 30. The preserve is currently open Saturdays and Sundays. Chief Naturalist and Oxley Nature Center and Redbud Valley Nature Preserve Director Eddie Reese said attendance has boomed in the past year, and that’s meant more problems.

"And so, we have some plants being poached — some rare plants — and we have off-trail hiking, which causes erosion, graffiti on the rocks and the trees and things like that," Reese said.

Saint Francis officials said in a Monday update their COVID hospitalizations are nearing their early winter record.

The hospital reported 282 COVID patients Monday, including nine children. That represents about 25% of staffed beds across all inpatient facilities. The winter peak was 309 COVID patients.

Acute Care Nursing Director Christy Pisarra said things feel different this time because of a lack of community support. She said nurses and doctors leave the hospital after their demanding shifts and see people have largely moved on from the pandemic.

Central States Center for Agricultural Safety and Health

The head of the Oklahoma Center for Poison and Drug Information on Monday advised Oklahomans to avoid self-medicating with drugs intended to deworm livestock in an attempt to prevent or treat COVID-19 in human beings. 

Monday's top stories:

• The Cherokee Nation says it will donate masks to public school districts within its reservation boundaries that implement mask mandates.

• An industry group for long-term care facilities in Oklahoma says a federal mandate for staff to be vaccinated against COVID-19 could have major negative effects for nursing home residents.

Cherokee Nation

Cherokee Nation announced Thursday it will donate Tribally-manufactured masks to any public school districts within its reservation boundaries that require them to be worn, despite a state law signed by Gov. Kevin Stitt in May that makes implementing that public health measure illegal.


Cherokee Nation and Spartan College of Aeronautics and Technology have entered into a formal education agreement.

The partnership will help Cherokee Nation citizens access training for careers as pilots or aviation technicians. Spartan Executive Vice President Dan Bregman said there’s a definite need for pilots, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the problem.

Tulsa Planning Office

After months of planning, a steering committee has chosen an alignment for Tulsa’s Route 66 bus rapid transit line.

It will follow 11th Street from downtown to Garnett Road before turning south to take 21st Street to its terminus at Eastgate Metroplex. Five north-south legs to take buses from 11th to 21st street were considered. The committee evaluated them based on multiple data points, including demographics, access to jobs and social services, and existing transit ridership, and Garnett was the clear best option.

Data from Oklahoma State Department of Health; photo from Whitney Bryen of Oklahoma Watch

An organization that represents the interests of long-term care facilities in Oklahoma says President Biden’s vaccine mandate for nursing home employees will wreak havoc on their staffing numbers.

Steven Buck is the CEO of Care Providers Oklahoma. He said at a press conference today the vaccine mandate will worsen an already bad staff shortage.

Stitt Criticizes School, Biden Over Masking

Aug 20, 2021

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt is criticizing both a northeast Oklahoma school district that adopted a mask mandate and President Joe Biden over comments that the state’s school mask mandate ban may violate a coronavirus aid package for schools.

The Republican governor and state Attorney General John O’Connor released a joint statement Thursday criticizing the Hulbert school district for its mask requirement.

Tulsa Man Pleads Guilty To Threatening Biden, Congress

Aug 20, 2021

TULSA, Okla. (AP) — A Tulsa man has pleaded guilty to sending emails to a Tulsa television station threatening to kill President Joe Biden, members of Congress and their families.

Court records show John Jacob Ahrens, 58, pleaded guilty Thursday to threatening the president and two counts of interstate communication with a threat to injure.

In a signed statement, Ahrens said he had no plea agreement, but pleaded guilty on his attorney’s advice in hopes of a lenient sentence.

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

A former state health official warns Oklahoma has not hit its peak for the COVID-19 surge driven by the Delta variant.

OU epidemiologist Dr. Aaron Wendelboe said according to his model — which considers factors like vaccination rates, mask wearing and kids returning to school — transmission of the virus has more than doubled since June, and reported new infections and hospitalizations will continue to rise at least through August.

Wendelboe said other researchers are seeing information that supports that, including OU’s team testing wastewater samples for the coronavirus.

Pool photo by Mike Simons / Tulsa World

The Oklahoma State Department of health is preparing to offer booster shots of Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines starting Sept. 20, pending approval by the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Boosters would come eight months after a person receives their second dose. So, people who completed a series in January would be up first, meaning the state will follow the same rough schedule of giving shots to older and at more at-risk people first.

Tulsa County Sheriff's Office

The Tulsa County Sheriff's Office on Thursday announced one of its sergeants had died of COVID-19.

Sgt. John Harris, 43, had been hospitalized since late July before his death, the sheriff's office said in a statement

Friday's top stories:

• Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum and Tulsa Health Department Director Dr. Bruce Dart say all Tulsans should follow CDC guidance and wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status due to the current COVID-19 surge, but neither will say whether or not they support a mandatory mask ordinance working its way through the city council.

• The state health department says it's keeping an eye on hospital capacity as health care systems say they're being pushed to the brink.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

With schools returning to in-person learning, public health officials say they are keeping their eyes on the number of kids who test positive for COVID.

Dr. David Kendrick is the CEO of MyHealth Access Network that estimates data on about two-thirds of COVID tests statewide. He said today about 22% of tests are coming back positive for those aged 5 to 17.

As for where this number will go in the coming weeks, Kendrick said he could only state facts: kids are returning to school, they’re congregating in classrooms, and they don’t have to wear masks.

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) — An Oklahoma man convicted of crashing his pickup truck into members of a high school cross country team, killing three and injuring several others, was sentenced Thursday to three life sentences.

Cleveland County District Judge Lori Walkley ordered Max Leroy Townsend, 58, to serve the life sentences consecutively, making it unlikely he will ever be released from prison. Townsend, wearing orange jail coveralls and with his hands and feet shackled, showed little reaction.


More than 32,000 Tulsa Public Schools students returned to their classrooms Thursday.

The district expects every adult and student to wear a mask indoors and out when they’re around others, regardless of vaccination status, in order to limit spread of COVID-19. Speaking to reporters outside Bell Elementary during her districtwide, first-day-of-school tour, Superintendent Dr. Deborah Gist said she’s been pleased to see staff, students and parents masked up, but officials will monitor mask wearing and related legal issues.

Whitney Bryen, Oklahoma Watch

The Oklahoma State Department of Health is acknowledging the squeeze on hospitals created by patients severely ill with COVID-19.

According to a hospital association survey this week, 22% of staffed hospital beds in the state — 1,309 out of 5,913 — are occupied by someone with COVID. That’s on top of hospital demand that’s typically higher this time of year.

State Health Commissioner Dr. Lance Frye said the survey represents the count at a single point in time and numbers can fluctuate.