In The Know: Coronavirus tests remain limited in state; Inhofe, Lankford vote against federal stimulus package; 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. Click here to subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

New from OK Policy

OK Policy: Oklahoma making mockery of public hearing process: “The Oklahoma Health Care Authority is making a mockery of the public hearing process and appears oblivious to the fact that there is a national health emergency occurring. Instead, OHCA is moving ahead with a ‘virtual public hearing’ on a health care proposal that would put needless barriers on health care coverage for up to 200,000 Oklahomans,” said OK Policy Executive Director Ahniwake Rose. Read full statement.

Join the OK Policy team as a paid intern this summer! OK Policy is now accepting applications for paid, part-time or full-time internships in our Tulsa office during the summer 2020 semester! If you’re looking to be part of a team that’s fighting to make Oklahoma better for all Oklahomans, this might be the place for you. The deadline to apply is 5:00 p.m., Sunday, April 19. [OK Policy]

In The News

Stitt’s Medicaid waiver seeks work requirements, premiums for low-income Oklahomans: Gov. Kevin Stitt’s plan to customize Medicaid expansion in Oklahoma seeks to impose work or community-engagement requirements on thousands of low-income Oklahomans and charge them monthly premiums for health care services. Directed by Stitt, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority is seeking approval for a Healthy Adult Opportunity waiver — offered by the Trump administration to let states tailor their Medicaid expansion plans. Oklahoma Policy Institute Executive Director Ahniwake Rose on Wednesday criticized the agency’s decision to go ahead with the waiver process despite the global outbreak derailing an in-person public hearing set for this week. [The Oklahoman] OK Policy has put together the CoverOK.org website so residents can learn more about the proposal, as well as have their voices heard about the governor’s proposal during the 30-day comment period.

Coronavirus tests remain limited, raising questions about haves and have-nots: With a shortage of COVID-19 testing kits available at Oklahoma’s state lab, public health officials are prioritizing who can get tested for the virus, but it’s causing high anxiety among some patients. State officials said Wednesday they’re waiting on shipments of the raw materials that go into the testing kits to come from the federal government. [Oklahoma Watch] “We need to go ahead and prioritize specific individuals that need to be tested for novel coronavirus,” state epidemiologist Laurence Burnsed told media this afternoon. [NonDoc] Oklahoma faced a critical shortage of coronavirus testing agents on Wednesday as cases continued to mount, including the first child 4 years or younger and the first nursing home resident. [The Oklahoman] Players face backlash over quick coronavirus tests as others wait. [Reuters]

Oklahoma senators make up 25 percent of no votes on ‘phase two’ coronavirus aid package: The U.S. Senate passed on Wednesday a multibillion-dollar aid package to tackle the ongoing economic struggle caused by the coronavirus pandemic, but did so without the assistance of both Oklahoma senators who voted no on the bill. Sen. James Lankford and Sen. Jim Inhofe represented two of the eight no votes on the bill, which gives employees paid sick leave through two new laws — the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Expansion Act and the Emergency Paid Sick Leave Act. The bill also promised to provide free coronavirus testing. [The Frontier] The bill was approved 90-8 and was signed Wednesday night by President Donald Trump. [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma governor signs bill allowing public bodies to meet virtually amid social distancing directives: Gov. Kevin Stitt on Wednesday signed a bill that would allow public bodies to meet by means of teleconference or video conference. Senate Bill 661, passed by the Legislature on Tuesday, amends the Oklahoma Open Meetings Act. “Senate Bill 661 allows all of our boards, commissions and other groups to continue to meet and conduct the people’s business without gathering in groups larger than 10,” Stitt said. [Tulsa World]

Toddler with COVID-19 reported in Oklahoma as confirmed cases jump by a dozen: State health officials reported Wednesday the first confirmed case of COVID-19 in a toddler in Oklahoma. The case was reported Wednesday morning with 11 other new cases in the state. The total is now 31 with 29 in-state and two out-of-state cases. The toddler, a patient who is younger than 4 years old, is the youngest case reported in the state. [Tulsa World]

Integris officials urge public to avoid ER, stay home: Patients flooding the emergency room at Integris Baptist Medical Center have made it difficult to treat those with critical health conditions, officials said Wednesday at a press conference in Oklahoma City. Tim Pehrson, president and CEO of Integris, said roughly 80% of those who contract COVID-19 will not need hospital treatment. [The Oklahoman]

State ready financially for unemployment claims: If you are about to seek unemployment insurance assistance from the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission, take comfort in knowing the state has one of the largest unemployment trust funds in the nation. In fact, the trust fund is ranked as seventh-healthiest in the nation, noted Lisa Graven, the commission’s director of support. [The Oklahoman] Lawmakers were recently considering HB 3096, which would reduce the length of time Oklahomans could unemployment benefits. Such a move would be bad for business and could needlessly extend the next economic downturn.   

Prison inmates to get temporary free calls: Oklahoma prison inmates will get two free five-minute phone calls each week starting Wednesday, March 18, the Department of Corrections announced. The department canceled all visits by family and volunteers last week to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spreading inside its facilities. [Oklahoma Watch]

Evictions on hold in Oklahoma County: Concerns of the spread of the coronavirus is prompting Oklahoma’s most populous county to indefinitely suspend enforcing evictions. Oklahoma County Sheriff P.D. Taylor announced the move Wednesday. In a video the sheriff’s department shared on Twitter, Taylor said the decision was made to protect the health of tenants, landlords and the deputies who enforce writs of execution, also known as lockouts. [Oklahoma Watch]

State election chief urges delay of local votes statewide in April: Oklahoma’s top election official is urging Oklahoma’s cities, counties, school board and others to postpone elections planned for April 7. Oklahoma State Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax signed an election emergency declaration Wednesday that will give localities the option to postpone their upcoming elections. [Oklahoma Watch] Regular and statutory elections can be rescheduled to June 30, the day of the state primary election. Special elections can be rescheduled for any date allowed by law, according to the State Election Board. [The Oklahoman]

Tulsa Health Department urges communities to adopt Tulsa’s restrictions on restaurants, bars: Tulsa Health Department Director Bruce Dart has sent a letter to all jurisdictions in Tulsa County encouraging them to follow Tulsa’s lead in restricting restaurant and bar services and closing entertainment venues. The response from Tulsa suburbs varied widely, but most say their local businesses were already adjusting on their own terms. [Tulsa World]

When to call 911: Tulsa police, first responders under limitations to avoid virus spread: In an effort to mitigate the spread of coronavirus while upholding essential services, Tulsa police, fire and medical officials are implementing small changes to protect their personnel and, in turn, those they serve. Emergency calls will continue to receive priority, but officials say calls that are less than such will be handled differently. [Tulsa World]

Tulsa County Courthouse access restricted during COVID-19 outbreak: Tulsa County commissioners are temporarily limiting access to the courthouse in an effort to combat the spread of COVID-19. The courthouse will remain open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, but visitors must enter through the north side of the building on either the parking garage level or the plaza level. [Tulsa World]

Federal jury trials called off: Upcoming federal jury trials in Oklahoma are being called off in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus. At the federal courthouse in Oklahoma City, all jury trials set in April are being postponed. [The Oklahoman]

OSU will go all-virtual for rest of semester: Oklahoma State University announced today all classes at its Stillwater and Tulsa campuses will be delivered online for the remainder of the spring semester to help prevent the spread of coronavirus. Hargis said officials also are considering alternatives to the traditional spring graduation events. [Oklahoma Watch] OU to continue online-only classes through end of semester; graduation to be postponed. [Tulsa World]

Cox offers relief measures for customers affected by COVID-19 pandemic: Cox recently announced relief to support residential customers affected by the coronavirus pandemic. They include the offer of a low-income internet tier with no annual contract and relaxing data usage overage charges for all tiers. [Tulsa World]

More energy companies cut back, oil falls to $20: More oil and gas companies announced cutbacks amid falling oil prices and continued concern over the coronavirus outbreak. Oil prices had another jaw-dropping skid Wednesday, sending the price of U.S. crude oil below $22 a barrel for the first time since 2002. Benchmark U.S. oil lost $6.58, or 24.4%, to settle at $20.37 a barrel. [The Journal Record 🔒]

Amid ‘perfect storm,’ Oklahoma energy companies gear up for budget cuts and possible layoffs: The convergence of COVID-19 and recent OPEC disagreements has been called a perfect storm for Oklahoma. Journal Record editor Russell Ray discusses how, amid the concerns, energy companies in the state are gearing up to slash costs and possibly implement more layoffs. [KGOU]

Osage Nation suspends operations at all casinos and hotels at midnight: The Osage Nation was to suspend operations at all seven of its casinos at midnight Wednesday night, officials announced Wednesday afternoon — two days after the Cherokee, Creek and Chickasaw tribes put their gaming operations on hold to protect against the spread of the novel coronavirus. [Tulsa World]

Restaurants scramble to stay in business in wake of shutdown: Since Mayor G.T. Bynum closed all bars, restaurants and entertainment venues indefinitely Tuesday because of the COVID-19 threat, restaurants have been scrambling to make plans. [Tulsa World]

Bearing the brunt: Small businesses, employees look for ways to survive crisis: As health officials try to curb the spread of COVID-19 by mandating the closure of gathering places where large groups of people come together, it is unavoidable that restaurants, bars and music venues – and the employees that keep those businesses running – are going to bear the brunt of the economic hardship caused by the current health crisis. [The Journal Record]

Scheduling of non-urgent, elective procedures postponed at OU Medicine in light of COVID-19: OU Medicine is suspending the scheduling of some surgeries and procedures in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The action is necessary so that resources can be conserved for patient care. Resources include but are not limited to personal protective equipment and other medical supplies. The postponement is also being done to maintain essential staffing levels necessary to appropriate and timely care. [KFOR]

Lawsuit: State failed to comply with gaming compact: The Wichita and Affiliated Tribes of Oklahoma upped the ante on Tuesday in a lawsuit stemming from the ongoing dispute between Gov. Kevin Stitt and dozens of tribes over casino gaming. The Wichita and Affiliated Tribes added an amendment to the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma. In it, they asserted among other things that Oklahoma has not lived up to its obligations under terms of the compact, so tribes should no longer be required to share percentages of gaming revenues with the state. [The Journal Record 🔒]

Rural schools at risk for funding cuts: Here’s what you need to know: A bipartisan letter was sent to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos opposing the abrupt change to the methodology of eligibility for the Rural and Low-Income School grant program (RLIS). The letter, signed by 21 senators including Oklahoma Republican Senators James Lankford and Jim Inhofe, prompted the education department to give schools more time to adjust to the change. The transition to the new plan for determining eligibility could have resulted in a loss of funding to many of the Oklahoma districts currently qualifying for the grant program. [Gaylord News / KGOU]

Quote of the Day

“One of the most important things about testing to remember is: Testing isn’t going to make the epidemic go away. What makes the epidemic go away is social distancing and hand washing.”

David Chansolme, medical director of infection prevention at Integris Health [The Oklahoman]

Number of the Day

7,769

The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S. as of 5 p.m., Wednesday, March 18. 

[Source: Johns Hopkins / USA Today]

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

For urban poor, the coronavirus complicates existing health risks: Even in the best of times, low-income minorities can face daunting health and medical issues. Many public health experts now fear a potentially dire situation: If the novel coronavirus becomes an epidemic in the United States, it could exacerbate the vulnerabilities of resource-strapped minorities and cause devastating consequences. [The New York Times]

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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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