Internal Documents Show Health Official Raised Red Flags Before Presidential Rally

Wednesday, September 16th 2020, 9:19 pm
By: Chinh Doan

TULSA, Okla. -

Days before all eyes were on Tulsa for President Trump’s rally on June 20, the interim state epidemiologist at the time rang the alarm.

Internal state documents show red flags were raised about President Trump’s rally in Tulsa days before the event.

Wendelboe told state and local leaders there were significant increases in COVID-19 hospitalizations and cases to warrant reconsidering re-opening plans in this email:

“Also, I am very concerned about a certain indoor mass gathering scheduled to occur in Tulsa on the 20th. I have run some rough numbers and estimate that COVID transmission occurring at the rally will directly lead to at least 2 deaths and probably closer to 10. (Please see attached rough numbers.) I am working with team members to refine and validate my rough estimates. However, given the event is 5 days away, I want to inform you as soon as possible. Please keep in mind that indoor mass gatherings in much smaller scale have resulted in deaths. For example, the basketball tournament in Indiana that led to 5 deaths and church and choir gatherings in Washing and Louisiana. If you would find it helpful, I would like to meet with you to discuss.”

Wendelboe also emailed leaders at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, where he worked and continues to as a professor:

“I am concerned that the mass indoor gathering in Tulsa of 19,000 people will directly lead to deaths in Oklahoma. As the state epidemiologist, I feel I have responsibility to speak out and warn of the estimated risk. However, that my responsibility also lies with the health commissioner and the secretary of health; both with whom I have shared my concerns. I am acutely aware that Governor Stitt has invited President Trump to the state. Do you have any advice on how to fulfill my moral and ethical responsibility to the people of Oklahoma while considering my roles at the State and the University?
I have attached some rough calculations and I’m happy to meet with you about them. I also requesting colleagues to look at them and flesh them out in more detail with more sophistication. Any feedback you have will be appreciated.”

Wendelboe later emailed Tulsa Health Department Director Dr. Bruce Dart:

“I am advocating here for clear communication of the risk of holding a mass gathering. Please find my outline in the attached. I’m not sure of any instance were we would hold a public event and say…‘and by the way, there is a chance that attending this could lead to a minimum of two deaths.’”

Tulsa Health Department told News On 6:

“That was a state health department email, and we cannot comment on that. However, Dr. Dart was extremely vocal about his concerns. He expressed publicly about his concerns of large gatherings. We know there were a large number of gatherings in June while the virus was circulating in the community.’” 

According to statewide data, two weeks after the June 20 rally, there were more than 2,800 new cases and 26 deaths. One month after the rally, there were more than 10,000 new cases and 83 deaths.

Keep in mind, there is no way to confirm whether the rise is from the rally or from community spread. Many people also came to Tulsa from different cities and states, so those confirmed cases would be reported to their local health departments.

Governor Kevin Stitt's office gave News On 6 this statement:

“Protecting the health and lives of Oklahomans has been the governor’s top priority throughout this pandemic. As the governor has been advising for months, Oklahomans know COVID-19 causes inherent risks through each activity or interaction in their daily lives. While many people exercised their First Amendment rights to gather at the rally or at related protests, the governor issued guidance directing that vulnerable Oklahomans were safer at home.
The governor has reviewed models from several epidemiologists throughout the pandemic, and each one has projected scenarios far more severe than reality, often multiple times more extreme. The Governor takes all modeling input seriously as he makes decisions and recommendations."

The Oklahoma State Department of Health issued this statement to News On 6:

“Protection of the health and life of Oklahomans has always been our paramount concern. We know with COVID-19 there are inherent risks with any event. Throughout this pandemic, models have projected scenarios far more severe than reality. In preparation for the Tulsa event, just like with any large gathering, we gave attendees clear guidance to keep the public as safe as possible.”