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Minimum age for mask requirement should be 10, Tulsa Health Department official urges councilors

The city of Tulsa should consider lowering the minimum age for its mask mandate from 18 to 10, the executive director of the Tulsa Health Department said Wednesday.

Bruce Dart made his recommendation during a discussion with the Tulsa City Council.

“The reason why we are (identifying) age 10 is because for children 10 and older, they expel the same amount of viral load … as adults do,” Dart said. “Children 9 and younger, they still shed the virus, but the loads are much smaller.

“The data is telling us that people exposed to children who are younger, they might get sick from that exposure, but their illness is so far not as serious as someone that has been exposed to someone expelling loads at the same rate as an adult.”

The ordinance approved by councilors and signed by the mayor in mid-July set the minimum age at 18. The ordinance expires when Mayor G.T. Bynum’s civil emergency order expires Nov. 30 or when the ordinance is repealed, modified or extended by the City Council, whichever comes first.

Bynum has said previously that he expects that the city’s mask mandate will be extended beyond November. He said Wednesday that he supports Dart’s recommendation.

“Given Dr. Dart’s recommendation today, and his observation that children 10 years of age and older shed the virus at the same rate as an adult, I support adjusting our ordinance to a minimum age of 10,” Bynum said. “I will work with my colleagues on the City Council to bring that amendment forward for their consideration.”

For the age limit to be changed, the City Council would have to approve a modification to the ordinance and the mayor would have to sign it. The council has yet to set a date for the vote.

As of Wednesday morning, Tulsa County had recorded 15,469 COVID-19 cases and 149 people from Tulsa County had died of the disease, according to state data.

Dart told councilors that although the county has seen a drop in new cases in the last week, it has been accompanied by a decline in testing.

“I think people are just getting a little fatigued and tired of COVID so our number of tests are down, but our percent positivity rate continues to hang where we would not like to see it,” Dart said.

The county’s overall positivity rate continues to hover around 12%, while the number of cases in the 0-4 and 5-17 age groups is increasing, Dart said.

“For the second week in a row there were more cases in the 0 to 5 to 17 age group than the 65 and over age group,” Dart said. “And now for the first time cumulatively we have got more cases in the 0 to 17 than we do in 65 and over.”

For the week of Aug. 23-29, the 5-17 age group accounted for about 8.2% of new COVID-19 cases in the county, and by the week of Sept. 6-12 the percentage had grown to 12.5%, according to the Tulsa Health Department. And since Aug. 25, county schools have had to quarantine individuals or take other measures 155 times in response to the coronavirus.

Overall, more than 11% of the county’s cases have involved people age 17 or younger, according to the Tulsa Health Department. That figure includes children 4 years old and younger, who account for 1.37% of cases; and people 5 to 17, who account for 9.71% of cases.

Individuals 65 and older account for 10.75% of the county’s cases.

Dart said the highest number of new cases is coming from schools, followed by long-term care facilities and religious services.

Given the current trends and the upcoming flu season, Dart said, he believes it makes sense to be proactive and lower the age at which masks are required.

“I just think it would be a wise choice,” he said.

Public school facilities within the Tulsa city limits are subject to the city’s existing mask ordinance.

For Tulsa Public Schools, that hasn’t been a big issue because all students are distance learning at least through the end of October.

TPS Superintendent Deborah Gist said Wednesday that she expects to have a decision on whether to proceed with distance learning by early October.

Gist said she supports lowering the age requirement for wearing masks.

“I would support a mask requirement for everyone in Tulsa,” Gist said. “And I have seen and experienced that with practice that children of all ages can get used to wearing masks just like they get used to wearing shoes.”

The city needs more people of all ages wearing masks, Gist said, “because we need our children back in school.”

Union Public Schools spokesman Chris Payne said that district also would welcome the mask mandate. Sixty-five percent of the district’s approximately 16,000 students are attending classes in person, and most of the district’s schools are within the Tulsa city limits.

“Union would definitely support going younger,” Payne said. “We are requiring masks of all of our students. … So far our kids have been doing a fantastic job of wearing masks.”

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Crutcher Foundation gives back to shelter: 'Terence was always feeding the homeless'

Four years ago, Terence Crutcher was fatally shot by then-Tulsa Police Officer Betty Shelby.

To commemorate Crutcher’s life, his family and the foundation bearing his name donated their time and money to a transitional homeless shelter. Tiffany Crutcher, Terence Crutcher’s sister, said working with and contributing to a pop-up emergency shelter for people experiencing homelessness, located at 315 S. Gilcrease Museum Road, best honored her brother.

“Terence would always have someone on our sofa. We would wake up, and there would be someone with a blanket on them because they didn’t have a place to go,” Tiffany Crutcher said. “Terence was always feeding the homeless, and his daughters, they do that now.

“They do that every Sunday, … following in their father’s footsteps.”

On Sept. 16, 2016, Shelby fatally shot Terence Crutcher on 36th Street North near Lewis Avenue. Terence Crutcher was unarmed. Shelby was charged with first-degree manslaughter and was acquitted by a jury in May 2017.

In remembrance of Terence Crutcher, the Terence Crutcher Foundation donated $10,000 for continued operation of the emergency shelter. Foundation members have spent about a week collecting donations of clothing and hygiene products to prepare kits for the shelter’s visitors.

“This … is simply a way for us to serve, to show everyone in the world what Terence, what his life, was really about,” Tiffany Crutcher said.

The emergency shelter is in the previous county juvenile detention facility. It can house several dozen people in private rooms, giving them a place of their own while they transition toward more permanent housing.

The shelter opened recently and is operated in collaboration with local government, private organizations and nongovernmental organizations.

“If we all do our small part, we can keep this shelter open more than six months,” Tiffany Crutcher said.

Volunteers at the shelter prepared food and comfort kits and sang gospel music for the people staying at the shelter.

Greg Robinson, a Terence Crutcher Foundation board member, said Wednesday was a “day of service in remembrance” of Crutcher.

The foundation identified housing security and homelessness as an area of need during the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the comfort kits were face masks and other protective equipment.

“If we are truly the most philanthropic city, truly the most kind city, then we have to realize that housing insecurity is not just somebody else’s problem; it’s all our problems,” Robinson said. “That really is what Terence Crutcher represented; that really is what his family represents; and that is what this foundation represents.”

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Oklahoma ranks No. 5 in new COVID-19 cases and test positivity in latest White House report

Oklahoma ranks No. 5 in the U.S. for new COVID-19 cases and test positivity, according to the latest White House Coronavirus Task Force weekly report released Wednesday afternoon.

The state’s rate of new weekly cases was 142 per 100,000 people, nearly doubling the U.S. average of 74 per 100,000 people. Its test positivity rate was at 10%, which is more than double the national average of 4.8%.

One-third of Oklahoma — or 26 counties — is in the red zone for high levels of community transmission, with another 24 counties in the yellow zone for moderate spread.

The report again recommends Gov. Kevin Stitt implement a statewide mask mandate, noting that the highly contagious virus is being brought into nursing homes though community spread.

“Arkansas is a great example in the Heartland where statewide transmission has decreased through mask usage,” according to the task force.

The report, dated Sept. 13, comprises data from Sept. 5-11. Oklahoma is in the red zone for new weekly cases – more than 100 per 100,000 people – and the yellow zone for positivity – between 5% and 10%.

The state has been in the daily case red zone for 10 consecutive weeks, and the red for positivity in two of the 12 weeks the task force has produced its reports for states.

Charlie Hannema, a spokesman for Stitt, said it’s difficult to verify the task force’s data without information on other states. He also said that test positivity is a tough metric for state-by-state comparisons because methods vary.

“I’d understand making the comparison if each state was testing a similar random sample, but the positivity rate can vary widely based on the number of people who are seeking testing on a given week,” Hannema wrote in an email.

He pointed to Johns Hopkins University, which lists Oklahoma at a 6.9% positivity rate as of Tuesday.

Johns Hopkins uses a seven-day moving average for positivity rate, whereas the White House task force uses the percent positive for the reported week ending Fridays.

The task force has recommended that bars must be closed and indoor dining capacity limited since its Aug. 9 report.

Its stance softened to a degree in the latest report.

“In areas with ongoing high levels of transmission (red and yellow zones), use standard metrics to determine school learning options and capacity limits for bars and indoor dining,” the report states.

The report recommends the state develop a plan for increased surveillance of “silent community spread” by using antigen – or rapid tests – to monitor transmission among K-12 teachers; staff working at nursing homes, assisted living, and other congregate living settings; prison staff; and first responders.

State officials previously have said the White House is sending rapid test kits to nursing and long-term care facilities in September, with schools planned for a second distribution at a later time.

The state has been grappling with an outbreak in its prison system, with upward of 80% of the inmate population infected at its worst in the minimum-security Eddie Warrior Correctional Center in Muskogee County.

There have been 2,115 cumulative positive tests throughout the state prison system, including about 783 inmates at Eddie Warrior. There were 595 current positives across the system Wednesday, including 113 at Eddie Warrior.

Hannema said the governor’s office and the state department of health are “exploring options” for the testing of DOC employees.

The White House task force first recommended that Oklahoma implement a mask mandate in its Aug. 2 report. Its first report, on June 29, recommended ensuring the public use of masks in all COVID-19 hot spots.

Metro areas in the red zone are: Tulsa, Muskogee, Stillwater, Enid, Miami, Guymon, Fort Smith, McAlester, Bartlesville and Elk City. The yellow are Oklahoma City, Lawton, Shawnee, Tahlequah, Durant, Weatherford, Ardmore, Ponca City, Duncan and Woodward.

The counties in the red are Tulsa, Cleveland, Muskogee, Payne, Garfield, Le Flore, Rogers, Wagoner, Ottawa, Creek, Texas, Sequoyah, Pittsburg, Washington, Osage, Delaware, Kingfisher, Seminole, Craig, Hughes, Woodward, Love, McIntosh, Beckham, Blaine and Cotton.

The yellow counties are Oklahoma, Pottawatomie, Comanche, Canadian, Cherokee, McCurtain, Bryan, Grady, McClain, Okmulgee, Custer, Caddo, Adair, Kay, Mayes, Logan, Lincoln, Atoka, Stephens, Johnston, Haskell, Nowata, Garvin and Marshall.

Oklahoma’s new cases (rate per 100,000)

Red zone is 100 and above; yellow zone is 10 to 100

Sept. 13: 142 (74 national average; 5th highest in U.S.)

Sept. 6: 146 (88; 9th)

Aug. 30: 114 (88; 13th)

Aug. 23: 123 (93; 12th)

Aug. 16: 117 (112; 15th)

Aug. 9: 146 (114)

Aug. 2: 186 (137)

July 26: 126 (140)

July 19: 128 (140)

July 14: 102 (119)

July 5: 69 (100)

June 29: 67 (74)

Oklahoma’s test positivity rate

Red zone is 10% and above; yellow zone is 5% to 10%

Sept. 13: 10.0% (4.8% national rate; 5th highest in U.S.)

Sept. 6: 11.3% (5.2%; 4th)

Aug. 30: 9.6% (5.4%; 9th)

Aug. 23: 9.9% (5.8%; 8th)

Aug. 16: 9.4% (6.5%; 11th)

Aug. 9: 9.8% (7.1%)

Aug. 2: 9.8% (8.2%)

July 26: 10.1% (8.5%)

July 19: 9.8% (9.1%)

July 14: 9.7% (9.6%)

July 5: 6.0% (8.3%)

June 29: 5.8% (7.0%)

Each of these reports can be found online at

Source: White House Coronavirus Task Force reports

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Sally unleashes flooding

PENSACOLA, Fla. — Hurricane Sally lumbered ashore near the Florida-Alabama line Wednesday with 105 mph winds and rain measured in feet, not inches, killing at least one person, swamping homes and forcing the rescue of hundreds as it pushed inland for what could be a slow and disastrous drenching across the Deep South.

The death happened in Orange Beach, Alabama, according to Mayor Tony Kennon, who also told The Associated Press that one person was missing. Kennon said he couldn't immediately release details.

Moving at just 3 mph, or about as fast as a person can walk, the storm made landfall at 4:45 a.m. close to Gulf Shores, Alabama, about 30 miles from Pensacola, Florida. It accelerated to a light jog as it battered the Pensacola and Mobile, Alabama, metropolitan areas encompassing nearly 1 million people.

It cast boats onto land or sank them at the dock, flattened palm trees, peeled away roofs, blew down signs and knocked out power to more than a 540,000 homes and businesses. A replica of Christopher Columbus' ship the Nina that had been docked at the Pensacola waterfront was missing, police said.

Sally was the second hurricane to hit the Gulf Coast in less than three weeks and the latest blow in one of the busiest hurricane seasons ever. Forecasters have nearly run through the alphabet of storm names with 2 1/2 months still to go. At the start of the week, Sally was one of a record-tying five storms churning simultaneously in the Atlantic basin.

Like the wildfires raging on the West Coast, the onslaught of hurricanes focused attention on climate change, which scientists say is causing slower, rainier, more powerful and more destructive storms.

Sally tore loose a barge-mounted construction crane, which then smashed into the new Three Mile Bridge over Pensacola Bay, causing a section of the year-old span to collapse, authorities said. The storm also ripped away a large section of a fishing pier at Alabama's Gulf State Park on the very day a ribbon-cutting had been scheduled following a $2.4 million renovation.

By the afternoon, authorities in Escambia County, which includes Pensacola, said at least 377 people were rescued from flooded areas. More than 40 people trapped by high water were brought to safety within a single hour, including a family of four found in a tree, Sheriff David Morgan said.

Authorities in Pensacola said 200 National Guard members would arrive Thursday to help. Curfews were announced in Escambia County and in some coastal Alabama towns.

Sally turned some Pensacola streets into white-capped rivers early Wednesday. Sodden debris and flooded cars were left behind as the water receded.

By early afternoon, Sally weakened into a tropical storm, with winds down to 70 mph. Showers still fell in parts of the stricken area Wednesday evening, and the storm was expected to generate heavy rain farther inland as it moved over Alabama and into Georgia.

At least eight waterways in south Alabama and the Florida Panhandle were expected to hit their major flood levels by Thursday. Some of the crests could break records, submerge bridges and flood some homes, the National Weather Service warned.

Morgan, the Escambia County sheriff, estimated thousands would need to flee rising waters in the coming days. Escambia officials urged residents to rely on text messages for contacting family and friends to keep cellphone service open for 911 calls.

"There are entire communities that we're going to have to evacuate," the sheriff said. "It's going to be a tremendous operation over the next several days."

West of Pensacola, in Perdido Key, Florida, Joe Mirable arrived at his real estate business to find the two-story building shattered. Digging through the ruins, Mirable pointed out a binder labeled "Hurricane Action Plan."

"I think the professionals got this one wrong," he said before the wind blew away his hat.

More than 2 feet of rain was recorded near Naval Air Station Pensacola, and nearly 3 feet of water covered streets in downtown Pensacola, the National Weather Service reported.

"It's not common that you start measuring rainfall in feet," said forecaster David Eversole.

An emergency crew rescued two people on Dauphin Island, Alabama, after the hurricane ripped the roof off their home and the rest of the house began to crumble. Mayor Jeff Collier said no one was injured.

In Orange Beach, Alabama, the wind blew out the walls in one corner of a condominium building, exposing at least five floors. At least 50 people were rescued from flooded homes and taken to shelters, Mayor Tony Kennon said.

"We got a few people that we just haven't been able to get to because the water is so high," Kennon said. "But they are safe in their homes. As soon as the water recedes, we will rescue them."

Sally's crawl made it hard to predict where it would strike. Just two days before landfall, the storm was forecast to hit New Orleans — 140 miles west of where it came ashore.