Local & Regional

City of Tulsa officials took their oaths of office Monday on an inauguration day with limited attendance because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mayor G.T. Bynum’s uncle, Judge William LaFortune, administered his oath in Bynum’s office. It was broadcast online. After the two bumped elbows, Bynum gave a short speech calling on Tulsans to overcome divisive forces, especially as the city approaches the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre centennial.

Department of Defense

The Oklahoma State Department of Health reported on Monday 1,903 new cases of COVID-19, brining the state's total to 218,389.

Tulsa County had 327 of Monday's cases. Its total now stands at 36,702, second to Oklahoma County's 44,851.

The state's seven-day average of new cases, which shows the trend in infections, dropped slightly but remains elevated. It fell from 2,992 to 2,949. The record is 3,387, set the day after Thanksgiving. Oct. 5 was the last time the seven-day average was below 1,000.

Twitter / @OESCnews

This story was updated at 12:45 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 7, to include an additional statement from an OESC spokesperson received after initial publication.

The head of the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission announced Friday an abrupt end to the state extended benefits program, a program introduced in July meant to help unemployed Oklahomans who have exhausted other means of relief during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Monday's top stories:

• Oklahoma ICUs are down to 3% capacity. The state health commissioner on Saturday called the state's COVID-19 infection rate "alarming."

• Teachers are lower on the priority list to receive COVID-19 vaccines than some education officials had expected and hoped.

Pikist

Oklahoma's statewide intensive care unit capacity hit its lowest point in the pandemic last week.

According to a state report released Friday night, hospitals were reporting just 33 available beds statewide, 3% of the state's ICU capacity.

Twitter / @jsdelpilar

The office of Gov. Kevin Stitt is keeping silent following reports the governor flew out of Will Rogers Airport on Wednesday.

FOX23 reporter Jackie DelPilar tweeted photos Thursday purported to show Stitt not fully wearing a mask while flying to Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas. 

University of Tulsa Men's Basketball

The University of Tulsa Golden Hurricane men's basketball team is postponing two upcoming games due to COVID-19 on the roster, according to a statement released Sunday morning.

"The University of Tulsa announced today that a positive COVID-19 test on the Golden Hurricane men's basketball team and the subsequent quarantining of its student-athletes has forced postponement of the next two basketball games," the statement reads. 

Facebook / Jenks Public Schools

Jenks Public Schools issued an apology on Sunday for allowing attendees at a Saturday championship football game to crowd closely together while not wearing masks, even as local COVID-19 numbers grow grimmer by the day.

"The photo of the Jenks High School student section included in a post on Saturday from the state championship football game has been widely criticized," the district said in a statement, referring to a photo posted to the district's social media.

City officials have gained some insight into how much the COVID-19 pandemic has dragged down Tulsa’s economy.

City of Tulsa Chief of Economic Development Kian Kamas told city councilors last week her team had started to see signs of slowing commercial development activity in late 2019.

"And in 2020 with COVID kind of in full force, we’ve definitely seen a slowdown in commercial activity. You can see in November, we issued three new commercial permits as compared to the 2013 through 2019 average of 11 permits per month. So, down quite substantially," Kamas said.

Oklahoma Watch

While state testing for the current year is on for now, its impact on Oklahoma school report cards is up in the air.

Deputy Superintendent of Assessment and Accountability Maria Harris said in a statewide COVID update last week while the Oklahoma State Department of Education wants data from testing, they know it will not be as reliable because of the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.

KWGS News File Photo

Despite Gov. Kevin Stitt telling schools he wants all students back in their classrooms after winter break, teachers are in the third of four phases in Oklahoma’s COVID-19 vaccination plan.

Many education officials expected they would be a higher priority, considering the push to have all kids back in school as soon as possible. State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister told district officials in a coronavirus update last week that nearly 70% of the state’s then-almost 30,000 active cases were among kids 5 to 17 years old.

File photo

Evictions are not among the in-person proceedings Tulsa County judges voted to suspend until Jan. 11 because of rising coronavirus infections.

Eviction hearings were previously moved to the Family Justice Center, which is not covered by a new administrative order issued this week.

Oklahoma Access to Justice Foundation Executive Director Katie Dilks said continuing in-person eviction hearings makes Tulsa County an outlier.

Robby Korth / StateImpact Oklahoma

Gov. Kevin Stitt quietly removed and replaced State Board of Education member Kurt Bollenbach of Kingfisher and replaced him with an anti-mask activist from Enid this week.

Melissa Crabtree has been an outspoken critic of masking in Enid. Bollenbach was one of three board members to vote in favor of a mask mandate in Oklahoma schools.

Stitt – who has repeatedly said he won’t implement a statewide mask mandate – has said when making political appointments to various boards he hopes people will do what he wants.

The Tulsa Health Department has updated its COVID-19 ZIP code risk map to reflect worsening local infection rates.

The new system adds four shades of red to help show increasing risk, with the darkest three dubbed Extreme Severe Risk, Extreme Severe Risk II and Extreme Severe Risk III.

Oklahoma health officials say confidence in the safety, efficacy and necessity of the coming vaccines against COVID-19 will be a crucial factor in the state's pandemic response plan.

"On the Vice President [Mike Pence] call" with the White House coronavirus task force, Oklahoma State Department of Health Commissioner Lance Frye said on a Thursday videoconference with reporters, "they stated that initially their first survey said that about 50% of Oklahomans would take it and 50% wouldn't take it."

Facebook / Sen. Jim Inhofe

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is closing out his relationship with Congress with one more power jab, threatening to veto a hugely popular defense bill unless lawmakers clamp down on big tech companies he claims were biased against him during the election.

Trump is demanding that Congress repeal so-called Section 230, a part of the communications code that shields Twitter, Facebook and others from content liability. His complaint is a battle cry of conservatives — and some Democrats — who say the social media giants treat them unfairly.

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

The Oklahoma State Department of Health reported on Friday 4,827 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the state's total to 208,875.

State Health Commissioner Dr. Lance Frye issued a statement on Friday, saying the sudden jump in cases was due to an issue with the state's public health reporting system that resulted in a backlog of cases. Frye said Wednesday, Thursday and Friday reports should have all been roughly 3,000 new cases.

Two Tulsa Public Schools employees -- a bus driver and a support staff member -- have died after testing positive for COVID-19, according to an internal district email obtained by Public Radio Tulsa and confirmed by a TPS spokesperson.

Friday's top stories:

• COVID-19 vaccines could arrive in Oklahoma this month, though state officials caution the quantity isn't precisely known and the first distribution will be extremely limited.

• Oklahoma nursing groups say the state gave them little concrete assurance their requests to address a severe staffing shortage would be addressed by the Stitt administration.

Facebook / OU Health

Representatives from Oklahoma nursing groups said Thursday that while a meeting they requested with state officials was a good "first step," the Oklahoma State Department of Health and governor's office gave them few firm assurances that their requests pertaining to staffing shortages would be addressed.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

A major COVID testing lab is expected to keep open free testing sites in Tulsa and other population centers after the Oklahoma State Department of Health allocated an additional $5.8 million in federal coronavirus relief funding for it late Thursday.

IMMY Labs expected to stop offering free testing because it had run short on state funding amid a testing boom before Thanksgiving.

According to state data, IMMY Labs has run more than 10% of all COVID tests in the state since Nov. 1.

Matt Trotter / KWGS

Updated Dec. 7, 11:20 a.m.  

The City of Tulsa’s economic development team will roll out two incentives early next year to encourage business growth along bus rapid transit lines.

One program will reimburse city fees levied on businesses along Aero’s existing Peoria Avenue line and coming Route 66 line. The other will set up a revolving loan fund with the Tulsa Economic Development Corporation to offer low-interest loans to commercial and retail establishments.

Oklahoma State Department of Health

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The first shipment of a coronavirus vaccine is expected in Oklahoma in about 10 days with health care workers and long term care providers and residents receiving the first doses, state health commissioner Dr. Lance Frye said Thursday.

KWGS File Photo

All in-person proceedings at the Tulsa County District Court will be suspended from Dec. 8 through Jan. 11 because of rising COVID-19 case numbers.

Jury trials will be suspended until Feb. 1. A November administrative order had suspended them until Jan. 11.

Court proceedings involving defendants in custody will continue to be done via videoconferencing.

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

The Oklahoma State Department of Health reported on Thursday 1,707 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the state's total to 204,048.

Tulsa County had 231 of Thursday's cases. Its total now stands at 34,519, second to Oklahoma County's 41,709.

The state's seven-day average of new cases, which shows the trend in infections, fell for a fifth straight day, dropping from 2,571 to 2,354. The record is 3,318, set on Thanksgiving Day. Oct. 5 was the last time the seven-day average was below 1,000.

Thursday's top stories:

• Some members of an evangelical doctors' group are cautioning congregations to follow all public health guidelines and gather virtually, if possible, if they plan to observe Gov. Kevin Stitt's day of prayer and fasting for Oklahomans affected by COVID-19.

• 54 more Oklahomans were reported dead from COVID-19 Wednesday, a single-day record. The White House says Oklahoma has the fourth-worst test positivity rate in the nation.

The City of Tulsa’s Working In Neighborhoods Department is working on a plan to help guard against substandard rental housing.

It would accomplish goals of a landlord licensing program recommended by the city’s affordable housing strategy released in 2019. WIN Director Dwain Midget said they’re calling it a rental certificate of occupancy.

Coronavirus relief grants of $2,500 to $100,000 are available for Oklahoma’s creative sector.

The Oklahoma Arts Council received a $3 million allocation from the state’s share of federal coronavirus relief funds to distribute. One-time grans are available for nonprofit arts and cultural organizations, museums, historical societies, colleges and universities, local governments, and other entities that present arts programming and have an annual operating budget of at least $10,000.

Union Public Schools officials announced on Wednesday all students will move to distance learning on Friday and won't return to their schools in person until Jan. 4.

As of Wednesday, Union had 27 staff members positive for COVID-19 and another 122 in quarantine, the highest numbers to date.

Facebook / Governor Kevin Stitt

Members of an evangelical doctors' group are urging congregations to exercise caution and gather virtually, if possible, if they wish to assemble Thursday for Gov. Kevin Stitt's day of prayer and fasting for those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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