This story was updated Thursday afternoon, March 19.
A Tulsa County man in his 50s died of complications from the COVID-19 respiratory disease on Wednesday, one day after he tested positive for the virus.
The Tulsa Health Department did not release any other details, including whether the victim had conditions that made him more susceptible to the coronavirus’s worst effects. In news conference, Tulsa Health Department Executive Director Bruce Dart said the death was the first one in Tulsa confirmed as involving community exposure.
The man was identified as Merle Dry in a Facebook post by Metro Pentecostal Church, where he attended.
“Merle Dry was in good health as far as we all knew,” the church’s post said. “He was fighting a cold and then he contacted the corona virus. He was diagnosed on Tuesday and passed away on Wednesday. He was unable to breathe. He was age 55 and Cherokee. He had not been at the church for a bit due to his not feeling well.”
In his news release, Dart added, “It is with great sadness that I confirm that a Tulsa County resident has passed away due to COVID-19. This is a tragedy for our community. In these unprecedented times, everyone feels the weight of this loss. COVID-19 has impacted our community on a monumental level, but today I ask you to take a moment to pause and recognize that a family has lost their loved one. Our thoughts and prayers are with them.”
At the news conference, Dart said testing capability is dwindling in Tulsa, the entire state and nationwide. “We know that we have more specimens to be tested than test kits to do the testing. Requests have been put in to replenish those testing supplies. We have no idea when those test kids will come in.”
Dart added in the news release, “Individuals with symptoms such as fever, cough or shortness of breath are advised to stay home and limit person-to-person engagement. Call your health care provider to discuss your symptoms. Emergency rooms should be utilized only for medical emergencies. Tulsa County residents are encouraged to implement social distancing and avoid large crowds and gatherings to slow the spread of the disease. Frequent handwashing and disinfecting of surfaces are imperative to limit the spread.”
Gov. Kevin Stitt, who is from Tulsa, said in a statement, “I am deeply saddened to learn of Oklahoma’s first death from COVID-19. Sarah and I send our sincere condolences and ask Oklahomans to join us in praying for his family and loved ones.
“My highest priority is the safety and well-being of every Oklahoman and I will deploy every resource available to protect the health of all of our families, friends and neighbors,” he added.