A city transformed after bombing

This story on the Oklahoma City Bombing is from 2015


By Michael Kinney

OKLAHOMA CITY — On April 18, 1995, Oklahoma City resembled most mid-major cities in America. Sprawling in some areas, but old and run down in other parts as residents continued to move to the suburbs.

At 9:02 a.m. on April 19, 1995, a bomb blew up at the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, killing 168 people. It was one of most devastating terrorist acts in the country’s history. It also set in motion the transformation of the city’s urban core into a thriving, residential, entertainment and business hub.

That renaissance is built around two major points in downtown Oklahoma City: The site of the bombing, which is now the Oklahoma City Memorial Museum, and the Chesapeake Energy Arena, home to the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“The memorial is the heart of the city,” said Kari Watkins, Executive Director of Oklahoma City National Memorial Museum. “On the day of the bombing, those grounds were the northern edge of downtown and today the city kind of healed from the heart out. There is a great connection between the memorial and the rest of the downtown business district and it is really remarkable to look at the two sides of the memorial: Harvey which runs into the new Devon Tower and Robinson which runs into the Chesapeake Arena. It is kind of symbolic; what was and what is now and how those two spines connect it together.”

Despite the bombing taking place more than a decade before the Thunder played its first game in Oklahoma City, there is a direct correlation between the two.

“The response to the events of April 19th was the beginning of the resolve shown by a city that was going rebuild and reshape based on the values of optimism, grace and resiliency,” Thunder General Manager Sam Presti said. “That civic pride and purpose were the bedrocks that made the Hornets arrival a possibility and the Thunder a long term reality. ‎Each day, we at the Thunder are driven to build an organization that possesses the values of the city that we represent and a community that has supported our vision for the team.”

Before April 19, the area east and south of the Murrow building wasn’t much to look at at the time. It was populated with vacant warehouses and dilapidated office buildings. There was no nightlife to mention.

The blast from the bombing destroyed or damaged 324 buildings within a 16-block radius and caused an estimated $652 million worth of damage. Much of the area was destroyed.

In its place, the Bricktown Entertainment District sprung up. Starting with the Bricktown Ballpark in 1998, home to a minor league ball team, the development set off a chain reaction that has brought restaurants, night clubs and hotels in what used to be abandonment. Some call it urban renewal, others say gentrification as upscale condos continue to spring up.

Regardless, Watkins sees the change that has occurred in the past 20 years as nothing short of miraculous.

“If you look at the ninth ward of New Orleans it is a great comparison,” Watkins said. “I mean they got the same economic development dollars that Oklahoma City got or actually five times the amount of money, but business-wise if you compare yourselves to another city that received some federal dollars, just as we did, for rebuilding the city. We built a memorial that is run privately, but the city of Oklahoma City received some money to reinvest in itself and build the city back in that part of downtown.”

South of the memorial, there has also been major work taking place. A series of low-water dams created what amounted to a navigable stretch of the Oklahoma River which locals joked had to be mowed twice a year. That new, artificial waterway fostered construction of the Oklahoma City Boathouse District. It is now the official U.S. Olympic & Paralympic Training Site for rowing and canoe/kayak.

“Those places didn’t come back without some help from the federal government, so I want to give credit to those folks who put their own private investment along with some federal dollars to bring back that part of downtown,” Watkins continued. “It is a different place. It’s an incredible part and in some ways it is better than it was prior to the bombing.”

In 2002, the Ford Center was built a few blocks south of the bombing site to be the city’s new sports and entertainment venue. Three years later it housed the NBA’s New Orleans Hornets for two seasons after the team was displaced due to Hurricane Katrina.(The arena later was renamed Chesapeake Energy Arena).

In 2008 it become the home of the Oklahoma City Thunder and quickly became the focal point of expansion and business growth in the city’s new downtown.

But Presti makes sure everyone associated with the organization never forgets where it all started.

“It is important that we never forget the events of April 19th, 1995 nor the compassion of the response that ultimately became known as the Oklahoma Standard,” Presti said. “We must honor and preserve the standard amidst the continued growth of the city in order to ensure that it continues to be a foundational aspect for future generations of Oklahomans. This is a leadership moment for all of us as Oklahomans to reinforce these values in a way that will raise awareness and encourage preservation.”

Watkins says the rebuilding continues. Despite everything the city has accomplished in since the fateful day, they have more to do.

“We can’t lose sight of how we got here and get cocky that we are all of a sudden some hip city that forgot how we got here,” Watkins said. “I think we have got to keep taking care of business and, as I said, everything we do honors those who were killed and those who survived and the rescue workers and the journalists and everyone else who worked tirelessly to tell us the story. It took a lot of people to get this story done.”

Michael Kinney Media

Definitely a month to remember

By Michael Kinney

Michael Kinney Media

On the evening of April 3rd, my cell phone rang with a number I didn’t recognize. Normally, when that happens, I usually don’t answer it because of telemarketers. But in these days of social isolation, you sometimes welcome any type of conversation.

So, I answered it.

But it wasn’t a telemarketer, a friend or anyone I had ever talked to before. It was a doctor from St. Anthony Hospital in Oklahoma City on the other line.

He was confirming what I had pretty much figured but wasn’t positive on. He got right to the point and told me I had tested positive for the coronavirus.

By that time, it had been two days since I had gone to the emergency room with a rapid heartbeat, the shakes, fatigue and shortness of breath. Even though they told me then it would take a few days for the test results to come through, I had a pretty good idea that I had contracted the virus that had shut down most of the United States and a large part of the world.

As of April 10, more than 1.6 million people have contracted the coronavirus; that includes 102,000 deaths from it.

The United States has seen 502,318 cases of COVID-19 and 18,725 deaths. Oklahoma, which was last in the nation in testing, has 1,684 cases and 80 deaths.

However, by the time you read this paragraph, those numbers will have gone up considerably.

It’s hard to imagine that my true indoctrination in the effects of the coronavirus began a month ago.

It started as an unremarkable night during the long stretch of an NBA season.

But on March 11 when the Oklahoma City Thunder hosted the Utah Jazz, no one was really talking about the contest before the game tipped off. At that time the coronavirus had just really started to seep into conversations and media coverage.
However, when that night was over, it seemed everyone in the United States had some type of basic knowledge of what the coronavirus was and what it had been doing in other parts of the world.

Right before the Jazz and Thunder tipped off, I was near the floor taking video and photos when the players were pulled off the court and taken back into the locker room without any explanation.

More than an hour later, the game was canceled after it became known that Utah center Rudy Gobert had tested positive for the coronavirus. It wasn’t given the designation of  COVID-19 until later.

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That one act set off a chain reaction. By the time I left the Chesapeake Energy Arena that night,  the NBA had postponed its entire season. In the following days, other sports leagues had followed suit.

That was the alarm heard around the world. Since that moment, the United States and other countries have come to a standstill in many ways.

I had been in social isolation since March 20. Only going out to grocery stores and the pharmacy. Or to take a walk around my neighborhood for exercise.

Yet, on March 24, I had started feeling symptoms that could have also been associated with a cold. Things such as a scratchy throat and a tightness in my chest.

But it wasn’t until March 29 that I began to really feel its impact. It included head and chest pressure, a small cough and fatigue.

The entire time I was in contact with my doctor through emails. He told me since I didn’t have any problems breathing, the best thing I could do was just hunker down at home and ride it out.

That was the plan until the morning of April 1, when after a long night of dealing with symptoms, I woke and my heart was racing. Because I was in the process of writing a story on the impact of COVID-19 on those with underlying conditions, I felt I needed to go to the ER.

So, that is how on what is normally April Fool’s Day, I would find myself on a gurney at 5 a.m. with wires attached to me.

While all the tests came back normal, I was still given the COVID-19 test. At that point I had heard of it, but didn’t know exactly how it was performed. So when they said they needed to take a swab, I opened my mouth. The nurse said, ‘no, not that way.’

The swab actually went up my right nostril. I thought she hit brain matter. They then did the same on the left side. It was unpleasant and they said they would have the results in two or three days.

That was it. I was at the ER for just over an hour before leaving with a complimentary cotton face mask and what I assume will be an extremely high bill.

From that point, it was just a lot of praying and a waiting game until I got the results back April 3.

Not only did I get a call from the doctor at the hospital, but Elizabeth Billingsley, an RN with OKC-County Health Department, called a few minutes later to make sure I was taking the right precautions and isolating myself from the public for a time being.

According to both, once I have had no fever for three consecutive days and had been away from the public for at least seven days since the onset of the illness and once I was feeling better, they believed I would be clear of the virus.

I had achieved all of those benchmarks by the time I got the call from Billingsley on April 8. She checked on my status and asked a series of questions before telling me I was clear of COVID-19 and was no longer shedding the virus as well.

“As far as getting it again, you should be immune to it at this point,” Billingsley said. “Once it has passed out of your system, your body has made antibodies to it and you can’t get re-infected. At least that’s what they’re telling us at this point. They don’t know how long that lasts, but you’re immune to it at least in the short term.”

Immunity to the coronavirus is something that is being debated and looked into by scientists across the world. There is even talk of creating certificates of immunity if they are able to know for sure that people who have recovered from the virus now carry antibodies that will keep them from getting sick again.

“I mean, it’s one of those things that we talk about when we want to make sure that we know who the vulnerable people are and not,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, told CNN. “This is something that’s being discussed. I think it might actually have some merit, under certain circumstances.”

Even though I was told I will still have fatigue and have symptoms pop up for a week or two, this was all great and relieving news.

Compared to what others have had to deal with, what I went through was mild. I didn’t have any noticeable fever, if any at all. No congestion and no problems breathing during the entire ordeal.

“You were a relatively healthy person,” Billingsley said. “You kind of got it and kicked it and moved on. But some of the people I talked to aren’t so healthy. So it’s not that easy.”

What got to me the most was the anxiety and fear at times. That is why I waited until I got the all-clear before writing this column or informing anyone outside my immediate family.

While I am able to move on with peace of mind, I am still imprisoned by this virus. Every time I get a cough or feel something in my throat, I worry.

Even if I am safe physically from it, many are not. People are still falling ill and still dying from it with seemingly no end in the near future.

Yet, there are reasons to be optimistic. Testing for COVID-19 has increased across the country and so are the numbers of people recovering after getting the virus. Even more encouraging are the antibody tests that are starting to pop up.

“I think the American public have done a really terrific job of just buckling down and doing those physical separation and adhering to those guidelines,” Fauci told NBC News. “But having said that, we better be careful that we don’t say, ‘OK, we’re doing so well we could pull back.’ We still have to put our foot on the accelerator when it comes to the mitigation and the physical separation.”

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Michael Kinney Media




COVID-19 testing increasing in Oklahoma

(Photos by Michael Kinney)

By Michael Kinney

Michael Kinney Media

NORMAN– Earlier this month, Oklahoma was lambasted nationally and internally by many for the rate it had been testing people for COVID-19. As recently as April 3, the state was last in the nation in the number of tests given per capita.

Since then, those numbers have increased greatly as the state tries to catch up with much of the country.

On April 9, Oklahoma State Health Department Commissioner Gary Cox, held a press conference in Norman at one of the 80 testing sites that were up and running that day. That included all of the 68 county health departments and the metro health departments in Tulsa and Oklahoma City.

“Our goal is really, and I think the governor’s goal, is to test as many people that want to be tested,” Cox said. “We not only want to use this to see what’s going on across the state as far as Coved-19 to do surveillance to see what is happening across our state. I think the messaging is going real well. Obviously here you can see for the long line of cars that are here for testing the word is certainly getting out.”

According to Cox, the increased testing isn’t just to find out who has the virus, but also where it is spreading the most.

“The reason for that is so that we can follow up with hotspots across the state. We can move our public health force in to do contact pricing interviews and actually to isolate folks that night have Covid-19 so it was not the spread,” Cox said. “So what we’re really trying to do is to slow the spread.”

The requirements to get tested can vary from each site. But according to Cox they include contact with an infected person or the loose restrictions of either having a cough, sore throat, shortness of breath or fever.

The information that the department is able to take in from the testing sites helps them in a number of different ways. That includes vital demographic data.

“We collect a great deal of data and we are expanding that because we want to include racial and ethnic statistics as well so that we can share those across the state and to see if there are disparities that need to be addressed,” Cox said. “That’s something that is very important. It’s something that we’re focused on and we’re working on collecting more and more of that data. It’s partially in place and it will be much more complete in days to come.”

For most cases, it takes 24 to 48 hours for results to come back on COVID-19 tests.

Cox was asked if there is a backlog of tests that the health departments is having to get through.

“We have no backlog at the public health lab,” Cox said. “We were able to keep up with those daily. I don’t think, usually in the beginning of the day it’s very few in the queue. If in many times zero. I can’t speak to all of the private labs. I don’t have any information before me right now. That’s what’s happening in the public health lab.”

As of the morning April 9, there have been 1,684 positive cases of COVID-19 in Oklahoma. That included 80 deaths from the virus.

The health department also reported 686 recoveries from COVID-19.

“I think this is a traumatic time for Oklahoma in general and I think Oklahomans have really pitched in have helped to keep the spread from going further,” Cox said. “We may have some tough days ahead, we’ll have to see. But I think the fact that Oklahomans have pitched in and really followed the advice that’s been given, it really has helped us to slow the spread. I think that Oklahomans we know that we’re very resilient and we can adapt and we depend on each other and neighbors helping neighbors. I think that’s what is happening in Oklahoma.”

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