Even with a local mask mandate, the Tulsa Health Department's data guru would expect Tulsa's COVID-19 case rate to exceed other municipalities' because of the disease's opportunity to spread among a more dense populace with numerous high-risk places to congregate.
However, Tulsa Health Department data show that Tulsa County's suburbs — particularly recently — are marked by per-capita rates higher than Tulsa's. In turn, that raises questions about potential hospitalizations, a metric that lags behind cases.
Tulsa's rate of weekly new COVID-19 cases in October was outpaced every week by each municipality in Tulsa County except for Jenks and the first week in Glenpool, according to data that THD provided to the Tulsa World in an open records request.
The most populated suburb, Broken Arrow, has outstripped Tulsa's rate from July 26 through the end of October except for fairly narrow margins two weeks in August. Tulsa's mask ordinance took effect July 17.
Monica Rogers, THD's division chief of data and technology, said Tuesday that in other parts of the country the most dense urban areas tend to have the highest case rates.
"In this case I would have expected the city of Tulsa to be significantly higher than almost anywhere else, and that is not true," Rogers said.
The report provided to the Tulsa World was given by THD on Thursday to leaders in Broken Arrow, Jenks, Bixby, Owasso, Collinsville, Glenpool and Sand Springs. The agency intends to provide updated data to those cities' leaders on a regular basis.
Comparatively, Rogers said, Tulsa is very dense, with the most public transportation, bars, restaurants, places of worship and gyms — locations where the virus can spread efficiently.
She said the increasing rates in the suburbs certainly could lead to more COVID-19 patients in Tulsa hospitals from outside of Tulsa's city limits.
Tuesday marked the second consecutive evening the state reported record COVID-19 hospitalizations across Oklahoma — a familiar trend since October began.
Hospitals reported having 1,434 COVID patients, of whom 447 were in intensive care units. Both were records that bested the previous highs Monday of 1,381 and 390, respectively.
Statewide, COVID-19 inpatients are coming from populations not covered by local mask mandates at a rate of two to one compared to municipalities that do have local mask orders, according to Dr. David Kendrick, CEO of MyHealth Access Network.
Kendrick said MyHealth — a nonprofit health information exchange based in Tulsa — has data on more than 80% of the state's COVID-19 hospitalization cases from which he calculated that 2-to-1 ratio.
In the past 60 days, he said, about 70% of COVID-19 hospitalizations in MyHealth's database are patients from areas not covered by any masking requirements.
About 1.4 million Oklahomans (about 35%) live in cities with masking orders, he said, meaning the state's 2.6 million other residents (about 65%) don't have a mask mandate.
"If you think of coronavirus as being randomly distributed across the state, then the impact is not as striking," Kendrick said. "But when you think about the fact that we know urban areas are closer together and people have more contact with one another potentially, it is striking that there are more from nonmasking communities."
Kendrick also noted that rural people tend to start out hospitalized in rural hospitals but are transferred to metro hospitals if their conditions deteriorate.
"So the sickest of the sick rural patients end up in Oklahoma City or Tulsa or maybe Lawton, depending on their acuteness," he said.
From a data perspective, Rogers said she and the Tulsa Health Department are encouraged that so many people and leaders are interested in data to make data-driven decisions.
Mayor G.T. Bynum, along with Tulsa Health Department Executive Director Bruce Dart, have been pleading passionately with either the state or area municipalities to impose a mask order.
Until recently, Tulsa had been the only city in Tulsa County with a mask mandate.
The Jenks City Council approved a mask mandate in a 4-3 vote on Nov. 10.
The City Council in Sapulpa, a Creek County suburb, passed a mask mandate in a 6-4 vote on Monday.
"It's extremely important, particularly based on the data, to make sure everyone is wearing a mask and they're all staying a minimum of 6 feet apart and that they follow all the safety guidance so we can start seeing a decrease in these rates," Rogers said.
COVID-19 case rates of municipalities in Tulsa County
(Rates per 100,000 population)
Tulsa (part in Tulsa County)
Oct. 4-10: 725; 179.64
Oct. 11-17: 738; 182.86
Oct. 18-24: 759; 188.07
Oct. 25-31: 663; 164.28
Broken Arrow (part in Tulsa County)
Oct. 4-10: 176; 188.76
Oct. 11-17: 206; 220.94
Oct. 18-24: 228; 244.53
Oct. 25-31: 229; 245.60
Oct. 4-10: 38; 167.16
Oct. 11-17: 39; 171.56
Oct. 18-24: 40; 175.96
Oct. 25-31: 24; 105.57
Bixby (part in Tulsa County)
Oct. 4-10: 51; 199.90
Oct. 11-17: 61; 239.09
Oct. 18-24: 70; 274.37
Oct. 25-31: 62; 243.01
Owasso (part in Tulsa County)
Oct. 4-10: 78; 235.23
Oct. 11-17: 66; 199.04
Oct. 18-24: 64; 193.01
Oct. 25-31: 84; 253.32
Collinsville (part in Tulsa County)
Oct. 4-10: 29; 445.40
Oct. 11-17: 25; 383.97
Oct. 18-24: 22; 337.89
Oct. 25-31: 31; 476.12
Oct. 4-10: 19; 149.87
Oct. 11-17: 38; 299.73
Oct. 18-24: 25; 197.19
Oct. 25-31: 25; 197.19
Sand Springs (part in Tulsa County)
Oct. 4-10: 44; 221.85
Oct. 11-17: 41; 206.73
Oct. 18-24: 38; 191.60
Oct. 25-31: 41; 206.73
Source: Tulsa Health Department
Note: Data don't include any populations or cases in portions of municipalities outside of Tulsa County.
Video: Tulsa mayor asks neighboring communities to talk to area health care officials
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