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Tulsa mask ordinance now in the works, mayor says; city councilor says she was ready to offer resolution

Mayor G.T. Bynum announced Friday that he will present the City Council with a proposed ordinance next week that would require Tulsans to wear face coverings in public to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

City councilors are expected to vote on the proposal as early as Wednesday.

“Today, Dr. Bruce Dart of the Tulsa Health Department notified my office that continued trend data indicates the need for an ordinance requiring face covering in public places,” Bynum said in a Facebook post. “This is necessary to slow the current rate of viral spread that will endanger our health care system’s ability to treat those in need if it is not addressed.”

Bynum was not available for comment Friday.

Earlier this week, he said the city’s legal team is looking at such orders in other cities and states, and questions such as whether people would only need to wear them while inside businesses, what ages, and if an enforcement focus would be on individuals or businesses would still need to be determined.

“The concern that I’ve heard … is that we need to make sure if we are going to put that kind of massive responsibility on local law enforcement, we have to be able to enforce that,” Bynum said.

Details of the proposed ordinance will not be available until next week, but THD spokeswoman Leanne Stephens said Dart’s recommendation is in line with guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dart is recommending that Tulsans wear “a face covering in public settings and when around people who don’t live in your household, especially when other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain,” Stephens said.

Tulsa County’s rolling 7-day average reached a high of 148 on Friday, and hospitalizations are on the rise, according to THD.

“Without further efforts, we will not see a sustained decrease in disease transmission. The science is clear that the use of cloth face coverings are most likely to reduce the spread of COVID-19 when they are widely used by people in public settings,” Dart said. “Therefore, I recommend city municipalities take action to put a mask ordinance in place requiring face covering in public places to lessen the spread in our community.”

Tulsa County saw 122 new cases Thursday and 135 new cases Friday, increasing the total number of active cases to 994. The deaths of three more Tulsa County residents were reported Friday, bringing the total to 75.

The mayor’s announcement came as city councilors were preparing a resolution calling for a mask requirement. Councilor Kara Joy McKee said Friday that she and fellow Councilor Vanessa Hall-Harper were planning to present the resolution to their colleagues next week.

McKee said she and Hall-Harper believe they could have garnered unanimous support for the measure.

“We were doing this before we found out about what the mayor had come forward with, and G.T. had staff contact me and say, ‘Hang on a minute, I’m working on an ordinance, we’ll have more details soon,’” McKee said. “And I responded that it is fine, if the ordinance comes through, then we’ll go with that. I am going to put a placeholder for this resolution, and if the ordinance doesn’t come, we’re going with the resolution. So one way or another, this is happening.”

Norman and Stillwater have already enacted ordinances requiring people to wear face coverings in public, and Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt indicated Friday that his city is considering a similar requirement.

“In Oklahoma City, our City Council has already called for a special joint meeting with our Oklahoma City-County Health Department that will occur Thursday,” Holt said in a tweet. “At that meeting, the nine members of Council will hear the recommendations of OCCHD regarding a mask ordinance (and other aspects of mitigation response).”

The move toward requiring people in Oklahoma’s two largest cities to wear masks comes a day after Gov. Kevin Stitt said he has no plans to issue a statewide mask requirement.

Stitt said Thursday that Oklahoma continues to effectively manage its hospital COVID-19 case capacity.

“I’m not comfortable with mandating masks,” he said. “It’s not something that I would do. The first question is, when you mandate something, is how do you enforce it?

“We’re not going to mandate masks in the state of Oklahoma. We’re not going to be mask shamers, either.”

The governor encouraged Oklahomans to continue to practice social distancing and other measures to prevent the spread of the virus.


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COVID-19 basics everyone needs to know as the pandemic continues

COVID-19 basics everyone needs to know as the pandemic continues

Local
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As restaurant workers' exposure to virus grows, owners' reactions show strain of pandemic

When Johnna Hayes learned an employee at Bird & Bottle had been exposed to COVID-19, she and her partners in 3 Sirens Restaurant Group made a quick decision.

“It wasn’t difficult for us to decide,” said Hayes, who also co-owns Bramble Breakfast & Bar and Celebrity Restaurant. “We owe it to our guests who have supported us over the years to know there has been an exposure and we are committed to keeping our staff safe, getting them tested and allowing our guests to decide based on our transparency if they want to get tested.

“Everyone deserves to know if they’ve been exposed, especially since we are still learning what we are dealing with.”

Hayes temporarily closed Bird & Bottle, had the restaurant professionally sanitized and maintained strict safety procedures with the staff.

Other business owners have had similar experiences, and to their credit, some have gone public, including Queenie’s, Mother Road Market and Prairie Brewpub. Others have closed temporarily without explanation.

These experiences underscore the stress and fears felt by virtually all restaurant workers during the pandemic.

“After the shutdown, which was traumatic for most, myself included, not only were employees set back financially and their worlds thrown upside down, they now work with the looming threat their restaurant could again be shut down due to a fellow employee being exposed, and if not that, simply a slowdown in business because of customer fear of this — which, quite frankly, I understand,” Hayes said. “This pandemic has taken this industry’s security away, and that’s hard to deal with mentally.”

Josh Royal, co-owner of R Bar & Grill and Roosevelt’s Gastropub, said the pandemic also has been a mental burden on his employees.

“They are constantly worried about the virus,” he said. “I usually spend a couple hours each day fielding phone calls or texts from employee concerns. We are following Tulsa Health Department and CDC guidelines, but it’s still not enough to ease their worries. Most employees are only working a few shifts a week for decreased exposure.”

Jim O’Connor, operations manager for the McNellie’s Group, which includes McNellie’s Pub, Yokozuna, Dilly Diner, The Tavern and others, said the restaurants have been proactive with their employees.

“They undergo a pre-shift health screening that includes a temperature check, and they wear a mask throughout their shifts,” he said. “Additionally, we worked closely with the Tulsa Health Department to create a COVID-19 protocol guidebook for our employees. This guidebook outlines what steps they need to take to protect themselves, their co-workers, and, of course, our customers.”

Those interviewed don’t expect things to change any time soon.

“We do anticipate that our employees and customers will continue to struggle with fear until there is a proven therapeutic or vaccine,” O’Connor said. “Unfortunately, a ‘cure’ is likely a long way off. Therefore, we are convinced that the restaurant industry will need additional support from local, state and federal agencies in order to survive this crisis.

“The economics right now are simply unsustainable because revenues are languishing at levels that are significantly below historic levels.”

Royal and Hayes both said they don’t expect any quick fixes but vow to keep up the fight.

“We may have seen greater success if our city leaders had taken swifter actions in response to this pandemic,” Royal said. “At the beginning of this pandemic, Elliot Nelson (founder and CEO of McNellie’s Group) created an email, text and Groupme thread with Tulsa and OKC restaurant owners. It has been extremely helpful to communicate with each other about what is working or not working in each of our businesses. Every day presents new challenges, which I don’t anticipate changing any time soon. “

Added Hayes:

“We do anticipate more struggles, but I personally am trying to leave fear out of it. It won’t do us any good. Our team is constantly talking, troubleshooting and trying to figure out how best to fight this.

“And let’s be honest, there isn’t a single person in this industry who isn’t a little scrappy, so we are going to try like hell to survive this. We have to.”


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Gallery: COVID-19 basics everyone needs to know as the pandemic continues

COVID-19 basics everyone needs to know as the pandemic continues

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Tulsa World Magazine came out Saturday

Look for Tulsa World Magazine in your home-delivered Tulsa World today.

In the latest issue, we spotlight local people and businesses that make things in Oklahoma and make our state proud, from big-name companies to artisans and craftsmen who sell their wares worldwide.

The new issue, also features ways in which businesses adapted to survive the pandemic.

To subscribe to the Tulsa World or to Tulsa World Magazine, go to tulsaworld.com/subscribe or call 918-582-0921 or toll free at 800-444-6552.

They can also be mailed to you for $4.95 by calling 918-581-8584.


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Education
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Mask mandate in schools 'certainly a possibility,' state superintendent says

OKLAHOMA CITY — Masks could become as common in Oklahoma classrooms as whiteboards and pencils, as schools and state officials consider whether to require face coverings for staff and students.

A mask mandate for all public schools in the state is “certainly a possibility,” state schools Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said.

The superintendent called masks the “bedrock” of slowing spread of the coronavirus and keeping schools open. Families who oppose masks for anything other than a medical reason are free to choose virtual education, Hofmeister said.

“If people want to be in school in person, then we all need to be willing to keep others and ourselves safe by wearing a mask,” she said.

Read the full story online at Oklahoman.com. A subscription may be required.


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COVID-19 basics everyone needs to know as the pandemic continues

COVID-19 basics everyone needs to know as the pandemic continues

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Father charged with second-degree murder after his two children died in locked vehicle

Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story included incorrect information about what a neighbor’s video showed. The story has been corrected.


A man who was arrested after his two children died in a hot vehicle was charged Friday with second-degree murder after a continued investigation.

Tulsa County prosecutors levied two counts of second-degree murder against 31-year-old Dustin Dennis, court documents indicate.

Dennis was booked into the jail June 13 on two complaints of second-degree murder but was released on a personal recognizance bond after security footage from a neighbor’s home showed that the children got into the truck on their own, officials said.

Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler said the case was never abandoned despite the decision to release Dennis on a recognizance bond.

But just as that earlier decision was based on new information, so was the decision to file the charges Friday, Kunzweiler said.

“The original basis upon which law enforcement believed the children died was contradicted by subsequently discovered video evidence,” Kunzweiler said. “However, law enforcement’s continued investigation established a factual basis for the filing of these charges.”

He did not say what new information led to the filing of the charges.

Dennis told police on June 13 that he drove to a convenience store with his two children before returning home with the children in his truck, an arrest report says.

Investigators said Dennis told detectives that he passed out and was asleep for “four or five hours” and was unable to locate the children when he woke up.

Dennis told police that he later found the children unresponsive on the floorboard of the truck and then took their bodies into the house, the report says. The neighbor’s footage was discovered two days later.


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COVID-19 basics everyone needs to know as the pandemic continues

COVID-19 basics everyone needs to know as the pandemic continues