Local & Regional

Wednesday's top stories:

  • More COVID-19 cases at local school districts, as teachers and staff at Jenks and Bartlesville Public Schools test positive. Union and Broken Arrow have both also had outbreaks. 
  • The Tulsa County Election Board says voters shouldn't worry about fraud or postal woes when it comes to voting absentee in next week's election.

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U.S. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy is suspending policies blamed for mail delays until after the November election.

That announcement came Tuesday as Oklahoma’s lone Democrat in Congress, Rep. Kendra Horn, gave a news conference alongside members of the National Association of Letter Carriers on measures needed to save the United States Postal Service. Horn said the postponed changes don’t mean Congress is off the hook.

File Photo-OU

A prominent industry analyst is not forecasting a permanent decrease in demand for oil after the COVID-19 pandemic.

Strategic Energy and Economic Research President Mike Lynch said during an Oil and Gas Journal webcast while many people are working from home or out of work now, he doesn't expect that or decreased travel to continue.

File photo

The latest search for two Green Country teenagers missing since December 1999 ended in more disappointment.

Investigators on Tuesday dug out a root cellar near a burned-down home in Picher, looking for the remains of Ashley Freeman and Lauria Bible. They did not find anything there.

Chris Polansky / KWGS News

With President Donald Trump openly admitting to an attempt to prevent the U.S. Postal Service from handling the surge in mail-in ballots it expects due to the pandemic, as well as claiming that voting by mail allows for rampant fraud, the secretary of the Tulsa County Election Board said Tuesday that the body is confident in both the security of ballots for next week's mayoral election and the ability of local postal workers to deliver them on time. 

Updated Aug. 19, 5:45 p.m. to correct state's seven-day average.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health reported on Tuesday 17 new deaths from COVID-19. Since March 18, 682 Oklahomans have died from the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

Four deaths were in Tulsa County, which has now seen 120 residents die from COVID-19, the second-highest total in the state. Oklahoma County leads the state with 132 deaths.

More information on the deaths was not immediately available due to technical issues at the state health department.

Chris Polansky / KWGS News

The head of the Tulsa Health Department says threats have been made against his life as a result of public health recommendations he's made over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Tuesday's top stories:

  • Some public health officials and experts are worried that Oklahoma's tentative decline in COVID-19 infection rates could be reversed as schools and colleges welcome back students. OU, OSU, TU and K-12 schools across Oklahoma have all experienced outbreaks this month.

Chris Polansky / KWGS News

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma election officials will print new green absentee ballot return envelopes to help postal workers more easily identify mail-in ballots ahead of November’s election.

The Oklahoma Election Board announced the change after being notified by federal postal officials that the state’s mail-in voting deadlines are “incongruous with the Postal Service’s delivery standards.”

Twitter / @OKState

STILLWATER, Okla. (AP) — Women living at an off-campus sorority house at Oklahoma State University have been placed in isolation and are prohibited from leaving the house after 23 of them tested positive for COVID-19, university officials confirmed on Monday.

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A board recommended on Monday less stringent changes to Oklahoma’s medical marijuana program than some of the dozens initially proposed.

One rule would have required labels on edibles to include a list of not only ingredients, but also any pesticides and chemicals used to grow and process the product’s marijuana extract.

Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority Food Safety Standards Board member Travis Splawn said that could be helpful.

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Bixby Public Schools started the school year on Monday with only half its students in buildings at a time — and with half a dozen teachers out due to the coronavirus.

Oklahoma Employment Security Commission

Gov. Kevin Stitt has asked the federal government to provide an additional $300 in unemployment benefits for out-of-work Oklahomans.

The governor’s office submitted a grant application to the Federal Emergency Management Agency. If approved, Stitt said FEMA will fund the $300 per week benefit, and Oklahoma will fulfill the 25% state match through existing unemployment benefits.

University of Tulsa Football

The University of Tulsa pauses football practices until further notice after eight players test positive for COVID-19.

The university’s athletics department said those eight players are in isolation and so far have not shown symptoms of the illness caused by the novel coronavirus.

Another eight players that came into direct contact with the eight infected athletes will quarantine for 14 days.

Twitter / @UofOklahoma

A sorority house at Oklahoma State. The Sooners football team. The faculty and staff of Broken Arrow Public Schools.

All have been sites of recent coronavirus outbreak "clusters." As more districts and universities bring students back to school buildings and campuses, epidemiologists and other public health experts are worrying that Oklahoma's trends in new infections, which have been slowly tacking downward in recent days, could change course.

Matt Trotter / KWGS

Preservation should be a main goal as the City of Tulsa considers Route 66 projects, according to a recently completed survey for a new master plan.

Nearly three in four responses picked incentives for neon signs, facade improvements and building rehab assistance as a top priority for revitalizing Tulsa’s stretches of the historic highway.

Roughly the same proportion of respondents said 11th Street from Peoria to Yale should be the top target area.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health reported on Monday 369 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the state's total to 48,711.

Tulsa County had 68 of those cases, and its total now stands at 11,443. That's second to Oklahoma County's 11,715 cases.

The state's seven-day average of new cases, which shows the trend in infections, dropped from 682 to 678. The rolling average hit its lowest level in a month on Friday before rising slightly over the weekend.

Staff Sgt. Taresha Hill / U.S. Army

There are still some wrinkles to iron out when it comes to school meals as Oklahoma students prepare to head back — or, in some cases, already have returned to learning.

Districts across the state are offering a variety of options, including entirely virtual attendance, either because officials are offering it for families not comfortable sending their kids to school or because they don’t believe it’s the right time for any students to return in person. The federal government has not advised whether schools must feed virtual students.

Chris Polansky / KWGS News

It was an exclusive meeting.

After abundant anticipation of a visit to Oklahoma by Dr. Deborah Birx from the White House coronavirus task force since President Trump announced it earlier this month, at the OSU Center for Health Sciences in Tulsa on Sunday, she was kept separated from the public, the media, and even the director of the Tulsa Health Department.

Monday's top story:

  • Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, visited Tulsa yesterday, where she met with officials including Gov. Kevin Stitt, Mayor G.T. Bynum, and Oklahoma State Department of Education Superintendent Joy Hofmeister. Media was not allowed in the room and Birx did not address or take questions from reporters as she has done in every other state she's visited thus far. Bynum says the governor's office declined to allow Tulsa Health Department Director Dr. Bruce Dart to attend the meeting.

Facebook / Heritage Rodeo

OKMULGEE, Okla. (AP) — The oldest continuously held Black rodeo in the U.S. rode on in eastern Oklahoma despite months of uncertainty because of the coronavirus pandemic, though this year some cowboys wore face masks along with boots.

The 65th annual Roy LeBlanc Invitational Rodeo took place Aug. 7-8 in Okmulgee, about 90 miles (145 kilometers) east of Oklahoma City, with a crowd of about 1,000 and some 200 Black cowboys competing, according to co-owner Kenneth LeBlanc.

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt’s secretary of education is the latest member of the governor’s cabinet to announce his resignation.

Secretary of State Michael Rogers told the governor this week that he plans to resign from his positions as both Stitt’s secretary of education and his chief policy negotiator.

Tiwtter / @OU_Football

A group of Ohio State football players’ parents Saturday joined parents of players at Iowa in calling for the Big Ten to overturn its decision not to play this fall because of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, Oklahoma coach Lincoln Riley said nine Sooners tested positive for COVID-19 after he gave his players a week break from team activities.

Oklahoma Department of Corrections

The man whose case led to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that Muscogee (Creek) Nation land — and much of eastern Oklahoma — remains an Indian reservation now faces a federal trial.

Creek citizen Jimcy McGirt was convicted in state court in 1996 of raping a 4-year-old girl on tribal lands, but that conviction was vacated after the Supreme Court ruling in his favor.

McGirt, 71, was transferred from the James Crabtree Correctional Center to the Muskogee County Jail earlier this week and has been charged in federal court to prevent his release.

Chris Polansky / KWGS News

Gov. Kevin Stitt has consistently opposed mandating masks on a statewide level to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, citing issues of individual freedom, but on Thursday he said he does believe that local-level mask mandates throughout Oklahoma are at least partially responsible for a recent downward trend in new infections.

Matt Trotter / KWGS

The City of Tulsa intends to stand up around a dozen programs over the next few months with its allocation of federal coronavirus relief funds from the state.

In an announcement on Thursday, city officials said spending would fall into five major areas: addressing unbudgeted costs of the public health emergency, safety modifications, supporting vulnerable Tulsans, helping workers displaced by COVID-19 and helping small businesses.

Chris Polansky / KWGS News

Updated on Sat., Aug. 15th, at 6:50 a.m. to include a statement from Sen. James Lankford received after publication.

With interruptions, delays and difficulties being reported by postal workers and customers nationwide, the head of a local union said Friday that he believes the complications are both intentional and actively harmful to Tulsans.

Epic Schools

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An Oklahoma County district judge imposed a $500,000 fine on the nonprofit overseeing Epic Charter Schools for filing a libel and slander lawsuit against Sen. Ron Sharp, who alleged the virtual charter school unlawfully counted student enrollment and misused taxpayer dollars.

Judge Cindy Troung decided the nonprofit was subject to a fine under Oklahoma Citizens Participation Act because the law sanctions plaintiffs who file meritless lawsuits intended to silence critics, according to The Oklahoman.

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Overall collections to the state’s main operating fund for fiscal year 2020 were more than 10% below projections as the state’s economy reeled from slumping energy prices and the economic impact of COVID-19, state finance officials reported on Thursday.

Total collections to the general revenue fund for the fiscal year that ended June 30 were $6.27 billion, which was 10.2% below the estimate, the Office of Management and Enterprise Services reported.

George Tiger

MUSKOGEE, Okla. (AP) — The former principal chief of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation has been sentenced to one year in prison and fined $10,000 for his role in a bribery scheme, federal prosecutors announced on Thursday.

George Phillip Tiger, 70, of Bristow, pleaded guilty last year in federal court to bribery related to work he did for the Wetumka-based Alabama-Quassarte Tribal Town. Tiger was no longer chief at the time prosecutors say he solicited and accepted the bribe.

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