Tulsa County

Races for the 35th Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals start tonight at the River Spirit Expo Center at Expo Square.

The midget car event attracts racers and thousands of fans from across the U.S., but this year, it’s being held amid a global pandemic in which thousands of Oklahomans are falling ill and hundreds are dying every week.

Tulsa County Commissioner Karen Keith said founder Emmett Hahn has committed to holding the event as safely as possible.

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.

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.

Chris Polansky / KWGS News

Voting access proponents staged a press conference Tuesday, saying Tulsa County and the Tulsa County Election Board aren't doing enough to communicate that early voting will take place over three days at ONEOK Field this year due to COVID-19, instead of the traditional early voting locations at the Hardesty Regional Library and the Election Board building on North Denver.

Tulsa County has approved $1.4 million in federal coronavirus relief funds for the nonprofit Opportunity Project to offer no-cost or low-cost child care.

County spokesperson Devin Egan said officials have heard the need for that right now is great.

Matt Trotter / KWGS

The latest tenant of the Cherokee Industrial Park has opened its doors.

Milo’s Tea has a 108,000-square foot production and distribution center there now. It’s the beverage maker’s first location outside its home state of Alabama.

It’s served by Tulsa’s municipal water supply, and the company famously took a tanker truck full back to Bessemer, Alabama, to test its quality in their products. Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum said he’s been asked why he’s so big on the Milo’s facility, which is in Owasso and is bringing 110 jobs there.

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Tulsa County early, in-person voting for the November election will take place at ONEOK Field.

The Tulsa County Election Board said it’s a large, centrally located venue with adequate room to accommodate large crowds with social distancing outdoors. It also has several nearby parking areas and can be reached by public transportation.

Early voting will be Thursday, Oct. 29, and Friday, Oct. 30, from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturday, Oct. 31, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Voters will be encouraged to wear a mask.

Chris Polansky / KWGS News

One day after Dr. Bruce Dart, director of the Tulsa Health Department, called for all municipalities in Tulsa County to introduce a mask mandate similar to the city of Tulsa's to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus, officials in some of those cities and towns showed no indication they plan to take the guidance.

"We have discussed it, and the Bixby council is not willing to pass a mask mandate at this time," said Bixby Mayor Brian Guthrie. 

Matt Trotter / KWGS

The 2020 Tulsa State Fair has been canceled.

The Tulsa County Public Facilities Authority pulled the plug Tuesday afternoon on midway rides and attractions, concerts, the rodeo, and Disney On Ice.

"I just can’t imagine that we can get people together on that midway and do it safely. I mean, you could see from other fairs, like the Springfield fair, nobody’s wearing their masks and they’re clustered together, because we’re social beings and it’s just a fun thing to do," said County Commissioner Karen Keith, who chairs the facilities authority.

Tulsa County Commissioners approved on Monday an initial $3 million for local housing assistance due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Tulsa Housing Authority will administer the program, which should start late next month. THA President and CEO Aaron Darden said funds will be available to Tulsa County residents who are having trouble paying their rent or mortgage because of the pandemic, hopefully helping them stave off eviction.

Matt Trotter / KWGS

Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler and United States Attorney for the Northern District of Oklahoma Trent Shores both cited the recent Supreme Court ruling in McGirt v. Oklahoma in announcing action in two separate cases, some of the first legal maneuvers navigating what Shores' office calls their "new responsibilities."

Oklahoma Watch

Some of Tulsa County’s $114 million in federal coronavirus relief funds may go toward getting personal protective equipment to area school districts before students and teachers potentially return to classrooms next month.

"We think that it’s of vital importance to make sure that we’re allowing for them to have to proper equipment they need to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 heading into the fall," said Tulsa Area Emergency Manager Joe Kralicek.

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Tulsa County District Court announced Monday that it will resume issuing summonses for jury duty, and that it will do its best to reduce jurors' risk of exposure to COVID-19.

In a press release, the court said that jury duty remains "a legal obligation as well as a civic duty."

"Local and county officials are taking all necessary precautions to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19 for those that visit the Tulsa County Courthouse," the statement reads. "However, no one can guarantee an environment without any risk of exposure."

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

The Oklahoma State Department of Health reported 64 new cases of COVID-19 in Tulsa County on Thursday, the county's second-highest one-day increase during the outbreak.

Tulsa County now has 1,372 total cases.

Thursday's jump in cases follows Tulsa County posting its largest single-day increase on Tuesday with 65 new cases and what's now its third-largest increase on Wednesday with 47.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health reported 65 new COVID-19 cases in Tulsa County on Tuesday, the county's biggest one-day increase during the state's now three-month outbreak.

Tulsa County now has 1,261 confirmed cases of COVID-19, second most in the state behind Oklahoma County's 1,404. Tulsa County's previous one-day high in new cases was 45 on April 3 and April 29.

On Friday, the Tulsa Health Department offered free COVID-19 testing at a food distribution event in north Tulsa. They quickly reached capacity there. Fewer tests are processed over the weekends.

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The Tulsa Board of County Commissioners approved a resolution on Monday to let county employees take up to three days of paid leave to be poll workers through the 2020 election cycle.

County Commissioner Karen Keith said with the COVID-19 pandemic, Tulsa’s go-to population of poll workers may be sitting this one out.

"Most of our poll workers are elderly. So, we need some 800 poll workers to man the polls for the June election. We’ve got three elections coming up, including the November election, which is huge," Keith said.

Tulsa officials on Friday said the city and county are ready to follow the state into phase three of a reopening plan on Monday.

As of Friday, Tulsa County had 983 total confirmed cases of COVID-19, 158 active cases and 51 deaths. Tulsa Health Department Executive Director Doctor Bruce Dart said the county's case trend is almost flat and hospitalization rates are trending up but remain manageable.

Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum said he does not have the same concerns proceeding to phase three as he did going into phase one, however, because the main benchmark is hospital capacity.

Matt Trotter / KWGS

Tulsa County renewed on Tuesday its agreement with the federal government for the sheriff’s office to identify undocumented immigrants for deportation after they’ve been arrested.

The Board of County Commissioners voted 2–1 for the new U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement 287(g) agreement. Commissioner Karen Keith voted against it.

Tulsa County’s previous agreement was set to expire in June. The new one is in effect until terminated by the sheriff or ICE.

Instagram / @TulsaCountyOK

Tulsa County has begun awarding nearly $114 million in federal funds it received under the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security, or CARES, Act. 

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The Tulsa Board of County Commissioners announced that a resolution limiting public access to the Tulsa County Courthouse due to the coronavirus pandemic will expire on Monday, May 3rd, with a phased reopening beginning the morning of Tuesday, May 4th.

Actual courtrooms, housed physically in the building but under the jurisdiction of the Oklahoma Supreme Court, will remain closed, but some county services and departments housed in the building, like the county clerk, assessor, and treasurer, will begin to receive the public.

Dr. Bruce Dart, director of the Tulsa Health Department, told the Tulsa World on Monday that each patient in Tulsa County who tests positive for COVID-19 provides an average of 36 potentially exposed persons for the department to trace.

County Commissioner Karen Keith

The U.S. Commerce Department announced Tuesday a $3 million dollar award to Tulsa County for improvements to the Arkansas River levee system.

The grant is directed through the department's Economic Development Administration, or EDA, and is intented "to improve critical infrastructure needed to protect businesses from flood damage," according to a press release from a Commerce Department spokesperson.

Tulsa County Commissioner Karen Keith said the money will help protect neighborhoods from the type of flooding devastated in last spring's storms.

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The former site of Tulsa County's Juvenile Justice Center has been repurposed and reopened as a shelter for those experiencing homelessness amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

County Commissioner Karen Keith said 55 men are the first clients to stay in the facility beginning Monday. Tulsa Transit buses are being used to bring the men to the shelter, operated by homeless nonprofits including the Salvation Army and the Tulsa Day Center and funded through a public-private partnership including the City of Tulsa.

Tulsa County on Twitter

Tulsa County Engineer Alex Mills said on Monday that the slate of major road projects planned for summer will almost certainly be reduced as a result of the economic downturn caused by the coronavirus pandemic. 

"Diesel tax, gasoline tax, gross production tax — that is the bulk of our funding," Mills said. "The numbers from March showed a pretty significant drop."

Mills said that the numbers for April are likely to be even more significant.

Tulsa County Sheriff's Office

A detention officer at the Tulsa County Jail died Wednesday after suffering a "medical episode" unrelated to COVID-19, according to a Thursday statement from the Tulsa County Sheriff's Office.

Officer John Okafor had worked for the sheriff's office since 2007, according to the statement.

"Despite the life saving efforts of his coworkers & paramedics , he passed away at the hospital," the statement says. "Please keep his family and coworkers in your prayers."

KWGS News File Photo

With attorneys and loved ones prohibited from visiting detainees at the Tulsa County Jail due to the risk of spreading the novel coronavirus, the Tulsa County Sheriff's Office says it is waiving video visitation fees for communications between attorneys and clients in custody. 

The Tulsa County Board of Commissioners on Monday approved an amendment to the county’s contract with Tech Friends, Inc., the Arkansas-based company that manages the jail’s video visitation system.

From Flicker, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

Tulsa County will receive nearly one million dollars in federal money to aid in recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

The $861,000 block grant from the department of Housing and Urban Development will likely become available within 30 days, according to Claudia Brierre of the Indian Nations Council of Governments, or INCOG, which will administer the funding for Tulsa County. 

"It's to respond and prepare for and address the needs that were created by the virus," Brierre said. 

Brierre said that it hasn't been determined how exactly the money will be spent.

The federal coronavirus relief bill includes $150 billion for tribal, state and local governments to help them cover costs of responding to the pandemic.

Governmental Affairs Director Terry Simonson said he’s been trying to project Tulsa County’s share from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act based on estimates from the Tax Foundation.

"It looks like the state of Oklahoma is probably in the range of $1.5 billion, and if that’s the case, then Tulsa County could be looking in the range of $100 million just to Tulsa County."

Tulsa County incumbents whose offices are on the ballot in June have filed for re-election.

Sheriff Vic Regalado, County Clerk Michael Willis, Court Clerk Don Newberry and District Two Commissioner Karen Keith are all seeking another term.

Keith has at least two challengers, county employees Josh Turley and Eddy Barclay.

Candidates for county office must file paperwork at the Tulsa County Election Board by 5 p.m. Friday.

Jimmy Emerson on Flickr, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Following the death of a tribal official, Cherokee Nation is preparing to face the coronavirus crisis head-on.