In The Know: AG requests audit of virus-related spending; reopening plans moving forward; new virus testing to be rolled out; and more

In The KnowIn The Know is your daily briefing on Oklahoma policy-related news. Inclusion of a story does not necessarily mean endorsement by the Oklahoma Policy Institute. Subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Oklahoma News

Attorney General requests investigative audit of COVID-19 spending: On the heels of reports about questionable spending on COVID-19 supplies and equipment by the Oklahoma State Department of Health, the state attorney general on Tuesday requested an investigative audit of the agency. [Oklahoma Watch] It wasn’t immediately clear whether Attorney General Mike Hunter’s request was related to the state’s coronavirus response, which the agency is leading. Hunter formally requested the audit of the State Department of Health in a letter to State Auditor and Inspector Cindy Byrd. [AP News] “It is disappointing that the Attorney General would see the need to entangle the agency with an investigation when it is in the midst of responding to the most historic pandemic of our time,” Stitt said. [The Oklahoman]

Stitt: Oklahoma still on track to begin phased reopening Friday: Gov. Kevin Stitt on Tuesday doubled down on his decision to begin reopening the state through a three-phase plan that will commence Friday. [The Oklahoman] A “phased” and “measured” approach to reopening Oklahoma’s economy remains appropriate as the state continues to make progress in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Stitt said Tuesday. [The Journal Record] The number of newly diagnosed COVID-19 cases in Oklahoma has decreased despite an increase in testing, said Gov. Stitt. [Tulsa World] Gov. Stitt also said hospitalizations in Oklahoma peaked almost a month ago and the health care system now has plenty of capacity. [Public Radio Tulsa] The governor said his two priorities during the pandemic have been to save lives and to soften the economic damage to the state. [KTUL]

Oklahoma among first to move to saliva tests; Gov. Stitt urges testing of asymptomatic people: On the day the state announced it’s rolling out COVID-19 saliva testing as soon as Wednesday, Gov. Kevin Stitt encouraged any Oklahoman who wants a test for the virus to be tested. [Tulsa World] Gov. Stitt also outlined plans to implement saliva testing and administer tests to all long-term care home staff and residents. [NonDoc]

As state reopens, Oklahoma workforce leaders discuss asking for end to federal unemployment payments: As the state begins to open up its economy next month, it could look to cancel the federal $600 per week unemployment stimulus payments to force Oklahomans back to work. Leslie Blair, spokesperson for the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, told The Frontier Tuesday evening that ending the federal unemployment payment “is not something we would do.” [The Frontier] As of April 23, 26.5 million workers in the U.S. had filed jobless claims, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. On March 27, Congress signed the CARES Act into law, providing temporary economic relief during the pandemic. [The Journal Record] National Employment Law Project: It is concerning that states are “re-opening” their economies and encouraging workers to go back to work. If shutting off access to unemployment insurance is any motivator behind this decision, it is sure to backfire.

COVID-19: 10 more Oklahomans die from the disease, 130 more contract virus: The Oklahoma State Department of Health revealed that 207 Oklahomans have died from the disease since March 19. In total, 3,410 people have contracted the infection since early March. [Tulsa World] Visit for the latest COVID-19 numbers in Oklahoma.

Health News

State delivering protective equipment to nursing homes, but is it enough?: The Oklahoma State Department of Health is delivering masks, gloves, gowns and face shields to nursing homes across the state this week, though some facility officials say the shipments aren’t enough to protect dwindling staff and elderly residents from further infection. [Oklahoma Watch]

Oklahoma to test all nursing home residents, staffers for coronavirus: Over the next month, the state is planning to test all residents and staffers in Oklahoma nursing homes and long-term care facilities for COVID-19. [The Oklahoman]

‘Let’s Talk’: Dr. Bruce Dart says modeling suggests virus to remain in circulation through summer months: People who are more susceptible to COVID-19 probably shouldn’t plan to resume normal activities until fall arrives. Dr. Bruce Dart, executive director of the Tulsa Health Department, on Tuesday delivered that message on “Let’s Talk,” a virtual town hall hosted by the Tulsa World. [Tulsa World]

Initial weeks of pandemic bring increases in suicides, mental health calls: Some metro-area law enforcement agencies saw an increased number of suicide and mental health calls in the early weeks of Oklahoma’s COVID-19 pandemic. [The Oklahoman]

State Government News

Stitt asks for patience as state works to process crush of unemployment claims: Gov. Kevin Stitt on Thursday said the state has made progress in processing unemployment claims that have flooded the system in the wake of COVID-19 business closures. [Tulsa World]

Education News

Tulsa, OKC among school superintendents warning Congress of “educational catastrophe” without more coronavirus relief: Superintendents of the Tulsa and Oklahoma City school districts are among school leaders from across the United States urging Congress to take further action to help avoid an “educational catastrophe” caused by the coronavirus pandemic. [Tulsa World]

Schools face challenge of teaching reading in proven way – and now in a pandemic: State officials say many teachers still use reading-instruction theories that brain research has shown don’t work and can be detrimental. That problem could become more severe in the fall, when school resumes and teachers must deal with students who fell behind during the pandemic. [Oklahoma Watch] OK Policy: Oklahoma needs to account for all students as schools move to distance learning.

Economy & Business News

State offers child care subsidy to parents, but providers group objects: The Oklahoma Department of Human Services is using federal COVID-19 relief dollars to pay for two months of child care for out-of-work parents. But an advocacy group for the struggling child care industry says the funding needs to go directly and immediately to providers instead. [Oklahoma Watch] OK Policy and nine other state organizations developed a series of policy recommendations and policy changes that can bring relief to Oklahoma child care providers. As many as 60% of child care providers could go out of business without additional support, which would leave Oklahoma ill-equipped for a full economic recovery as workers requiring child care to return to their jobs. [Full statement from the Licensed Child Care Association of Oklahoma]

Wheat farmers may be left out of stimulus payments: Tucked inside the $2 trillion COVID-19 stimulus package signed into law nearly a month ago are funds designed to help farmers, ranchers and the food supply chain survive the pandemic’s economic blow. But wheat farmers, one of the largest commodities grown in Oklahoma, could be left out. [NonDoc]

Oklahoma oil and gas jobs in decline: With the oil and gas industry hit hard by demand destruction and the recently resolved OPEC+ trade war, Oklahoma’s largest industry has taken a hit to employment. [The Journal Record]

Regulators allow voluntary well shut-ins: To prevent waste, oil and gas regulators in various oil-producing states have been asked to consider orders requiring operators to shut in wells. [The Oklahoman]

Four tribes announce extension of casino closures: Oklahoma tribal casinos operated by the Chickasaw, Cherokee, Choctaw and Muscogee (Creek) nations will remain closed at least through May 15, tribal officials said Tuesday. [The Oklahoman]

Criminal Justice News

Inmate freed from Oklahoma prison tests positive for virus: The Oklahoma Department of Corrections is testing inmates for the coronavirus at least a week before they leave prison after a man’s test came back positive hours after he was released. [AP News] The inmate showed no symptoms of the virus when he was released. [FOX25

COVID-19 found in state prisons as testing increases: Confirmed cases of COVID-19 have been located throughout Oklahoma’s prison facilities as the state Department of Corrections ramped up its testing capabilities over the last several weeks. [The Oklahoman] OK Policy and other organizations have urge elected officials and state officials to take action to manage the serious threat of a COVID-19 outbreak in Oklahoma corrections facilities

General News

Op-Ed: A robust census benefits community, gives piece of mind: The opportunity to help our community get its fair share of more than $675 billion in federal funds is now. Oklahoma households have received their U.S. Census questionnaires or invitations to fill out the 2020 Census online. [Op-Ed / Daily Ardmoreite] OK Policy: an accurate Census count in the state is vital for Oklahoma to secure its share of federal funding, have fair voting representation, and more. The Grace Center of Southern Oklahoma is one of Together OK’s partners in raising Census awareness in undercounted parts of the state. 

Already feeding 18,000 people during COVID-19 shutdown, Cherokee Nation will expand distributions even more: The Cherokee Nation has already been dipping into emergency funds and using supplies from closed casinos to distribute food to more than 18,000 tribal citizens during the COVID-19 shutdown, officials said Tuesday. [Tulsa World]

Serving through a pandemic: Clients line up outside Iron Gate in downtown Tulsa. Most are homeless, and usually 218 of them are allowed into the kitchen to eat together in what Iron Gate Executive Director Carrie Vesely Henderson calls a very “high-touch” experience. [Oklahoma Watch]

Race Massacre Centennial Commission announces new site for Greenwood Rising History Center: After talks to build the Greenwood Rising History Center on the grounds of the Greenwood Cultural Center fell through earlier this month, the Centennial Commission announced Tuesday it will now go up on the southeast corner of Greenwood Avenue and Archer Street, the gateway to the Greenwood District. [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma Local News

  • Oklahoma County receives $47 million from CARES Act [The Oklahoman]
  • Oklahoma City Council to decide on resolution to help metro airports hurt in pandemic [FOX25]
  • Mustang has most essential workers in Oklahoma, top 10 in the nation, study says [FOX25]
  • Some Norman businesses can reopen Friday [The Oklahoman]
  • 1 additional Cleveland County death [Norman Transcript]
  • Five more Northwest Oklahomans, including Enid residents, positive for COVID-19 [Enid News & Eagle]
  • Stillwater Medical to resume elective services and surgeries on May 4 [Stillwater News Press]
  • 50 cases, 3 deaths, 24 recovered COVID-19 cases in Rogers County [Claremore Daily Progress]
  • Grady County Commissioners discuss soft opening for courthouse [The Express-Star]
  • Stephens County has 22 cases and 18 recovered for COVID-19 [Duncan Banner]

Quote of the Day

“As we provide instruction at a distance, we will need further resources from the federal and state level to provide electronic learning devices and internet connections to every child… While we cannot speculate what the state will do in regard to funding education for next school year, we are mindful that Oklahoma has quite a long way to go to restore funding to and begin to meaningfully invest in our public education system.”

-Dr. Deborah Gist, Superintendent for Tulsa Public Schools [Tulsa World]

Number of the Day


The number of unemployment claims filed in Oklahoma since the pandemic began. 

[Source: Tulsa World]

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Workers won’t quit just to get a marginally increased unemployment insurance benefit: Unemployment insurance is a program designed to keep workers connected to the workforce. It is an earned benefit that allows workers to receive income while they are looking for a job. Any notion that workers will not return to work when it is safe to do so ignores not only evidence but also the intention of the unemployment insurance system. [National Employment Law Project]

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Jessica joined OK Policy as a Communications Associate in January 2018. A Mexican immigrant, she was a Clara Luper Scholar at Oklahoma City University where she obtained a B.A. in Political Science and Philosophy. Prior to joining OK Policy, Jessica worked at a digital marketing agency in Oklahoma City. She is an alumna of both the National Education for Women (N.E.W.) Leadership Institute (2013) and OK Policy's Summer Policy Institute (2015). In addition to her role at OK Policy, Jessica serves as a board member for Dream Action Oklahoma in OKC and communications director for Dream Alliance Oklahoma in Tulsa.

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