In The Know: COVID-19 infection rates climb, more testing coming; doctors, nurses may need to use expired equipment; 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.

New from OK Policy

Policy Matters: Fighting a pandemic, not bureaucracy: As his fellow governors have asked for a pause to bureaucratic processes during this health emergency, we implore Gov. Stitt to extend the same grace to his constituents. He should withdraw his health care proposal, or at the very least, significantly extend the comment period to allow as many Oklahomans to participate. [Ahniwake Rose / The Journal Record]

Governor should extend health care comment period as virtual ‘public hearings’ lack transparency, full representation: Whenever our governments propose sweeping change to how they operate, it’s incumbent upon them to act transparently and provide maximum opportunities for citizen input. Oklahoma’s ham-handed attempts to force through the Governor’s health care proposal fails in both regards.  [Carly Putnam / OK Policy]

The cost of denying paid sick leave: The current public health emergency makes it clear that paid leave, including paid sick leave, is a critical benefit of employment. The lack of paid sick leave is problematic even during the best of times, and it can be catastrophic during the worst times. Though the Families First Coronavirus Response Act does include two weeks of paid sick leave for some workers, it won’t cover everyone. [Courtney Cullison / OK Policy]

Evictions are currently suspended in Oklahoma: Oklahoma’s county courts, which handle all civil and most criminal cases across the state, have suspended most of their activities until April 15 at the earliest. That means that all eviction hearings are postponed, and that Oklahomans cannot be forced from their homes by an eviction or foreclosure until April 15 at the earliest. However, landlords can still file evictions in many counties. [Ryan Gentzler / OK Policy]

Oklahoma News

35 in Oklahoma ICUs with COVID-19; report counts those awaiting test results while hospitalized or self-quarantined at home: The coronavirus has hospitalized at least 35 patients in Oklahoma intensive care units as of Wednesday, with 93 more ICU patients’ test results pending, according to government data. The state’s COVID-19 death toll rose to five on Wednesday after two more patients succumbed to the novel respiratory illness that is without treatment or vaccination. [Tulsa World] Second nursing home resident dies. [The Oklahoman] Death toll, infections rise but more efficient testing on the way. [The Oklahoman]

Doctors, nurses may have to use expired equipment: The head of the Oklahoma medical association expressed frustration Wednesday that physicians might have to use expired protective equipment during the COVID-19 pandemic, while members of state hospital and nursing organizations said they may have to rely on respirators past their shelf life as they treat people with a potentially deadly disease. [The Oklahoman] Audit stalls distribution of needed medical equipment. [The Oklahoman] Oklahomans are contributing much-needed medical masks as hospitals run short. [The Oklahoman]

Medical groups say Gov. Stitt should expand his order that limits closures only to counties with confirmed COVID-19 cases: Gov. Kevin Stitt’s order designed to limit the spread of COVID-19 is a step in the right direction, but is “short-sighted” and doesn’t go far enough to truly stem what some believe to be an oncoming tidal wave of the disease, according to representatives of various state medical groups. [Tulsa World]

COVID-19 drive-thru testing begins in Oklahoma: Organizers had about 48 hours to turn the McAlester Expo Center into a drive-through testing site for Wednesday. They worry that short notice may be why so few people showed up to be tested. Melissa Locke, an Oklahoma Department of Health district nurse manager said COVID-19 testing can be as quick as 10 minutes. [NewsOn6


OU Medicine to start COVID-19 virus testing: Although testing kits for COVID-19 remain in short supply, OU Medicine and its academic partner, the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, along with the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, have launched a multifaceted strategy to begin testing samples on campus as soon as possible. [The Journal Record] McAlester holds COVID-19 drive-thru testing [NewsOn6]

Oklahoma wants to ramp up universities’ COVID-19 testing, but lack of supplies stands in the way: The University of Oklahoma Medicine laboratory is ready to pitch in to help the state test for potential COVID-19 cases. However, it’s unlikely the lab will be operating at full capacity by the end of the week. [StateImpact Oklahoma]

Oklahoma’s Coronavirus outbreak could affect drug availability for people with autoimmune diseases: A reported shortage in drugs mentioned to help with COVID-19 is causing some anxiety for people with autoimmune diseases that really need the drugs. Nancy Shively said she goes to a pharmacy in Skiatook to get hydroxychloroquine for her autoimmune disease, but she said she’s afraid of a shortage in the drug after reports it could be a possible treatment to help patients with COVID-19. [NewsOn6]

States say some doctors stockpile trial Coronavirus drugs, for themselves: The stockpiling has become so worrisome in Idaho, Kentucky, Ohio, Nevada, Oklahoma, North Carolina, and Texas that the boards in those states have issued emergency restrictions or guidelines on how the drugs can be dispensed at pharmacies. More states are expected to follow suit. [New York Times]

Oklahoma Poison and Drug Information warns not to use household products for coronavirus: The Oklahoma Center for Poison and Drug Information (OCPDI) issued a warning Wednesday to Oklahomans saying not to use medications or household products to treat the coronavirus without first talking with their healthcare provider. [FOX25]

Mental health facilities remain open, using telehealth if needed: Throughout Oklahoma, state-operated and contracted mental health and substance abuse treatment facilities, both inpatient and outpatient, will remain open. Carrie Slatton-Hodges, Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services interim commissioner, said people often are frightened during times of uncertainty such as these. [The Duncan Banner]

State Government

Rep. Jason Lowe makes fifth COVID-19 case at Capitol: A fifth person associated with the Oklahoma Legislature has tested positive for COVID-19: Rep. Jason Lowe, D-OKC. This morning, the Oklahoma House Democratic Caucus distributed a press release revealing Lowe’s diagnosis. [NonDoc]

Gov. Stitt declares Thursday ‘Statewide Day of Prayer’: Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt issued a proclamation declaring Thursday, March 26, a “Statewide Day of Prayer” for all Oklahomans impacted by COVID-19. Oklahoma faith leaders are asked to unite together at a special prayer and worship event titled “Let Hope Rise: Together In Prayer for Oklahoma.” [CNHI / Enid News & Eagle]

Muskogee Phoenix Editorial: Stitt’s order a step in right direction: Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt’s “safer-at-home” order is a step in the right direction when we need leaps. One of government’s essential jobs is to protect its constituents. That doesn’t just include military and law enforcement. It means we need government to step up and protect us in critical moments such as a worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. [Editorial Board / Muskogee Phoenix]


Oklahoma schools will close for rest of semester, moving classes online: Oklahoma schools will remain shuttered for the spring 2020 semester to combat the COVID-19 outbreak. The Oklahoma State Board of Education voted unanimously Wednesday to close schools and implement a distance education program. [StateImpact Oklahoma] Local school officials will determine their district’s own end date for distance learning for 2019-20, and they will have the flexibility to set that end date beyond mid-May if they choose. [Tulsa World] Gist: TPS not expecting distance learning to be ‘super-smooth’ [Public Radio Tulsa]

Q&A on Schools: Buildings are closed, but districts must find ways to educate students: Districts now are tasked with developing a plan to educate their students, who are sheltering in their homes due to the COVID-19 global pandemic. Some students’ parents are working, either remotely or physically. Many students lack technology or internet access. High school seniors are worried about graduation. [Oklahoma Watch] OK Policy has noted that education is a civil rights issues, and state officials should be exploring all options that provide equitable education solutions to all Oklahoma students, regardless of the resources that they have available.

How the University of Oklahoma moved its classes online: On Monday, Interim President Joseph Harroz put out a video statement calling for students to be patient during the transition. He pointed toward pass/no pass options as one way for students and faculty to ease what could be a difficult transition. [StateImpact Oklahoma]

Economy & Business

As COVID-19 cases surge, state issues sweeping order closing many nonessential businesses: Saying he expects Oklahoma’s cases of the novel coronavirus “to get into the thousands,” Gov. Kevin Stitt ordered Tuesday the closure of nonessential businesses in 19 counties and suspended all nonessential surgeries, while also issuing a statewide order that vulnerable Oklahomans stay home. [The Frontier]

COVID-19: Drop in sales-tax revenue to hurt cities, towns: Oklahoma’s cities and towns are sure to lose sales-tax revenue because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but the scale of the impact won’t be known for some time. Depending how long the crisis lasts, however, the effects could gash municipal budgets. [NonDoc]

Essentials of groceries and gas still create risk of COVID-19 infection: Even though Governor Kevin Stitt’s executive order has closed down even more types of businesses, two types are considered essential and still hold risks for COVID-19 infection. Those businesses that sell gas and groceries are doing more to protect their employees and customers (for the most part) but each individual will need to be aware of their surroundings in order to stay safe. [Free Press OKC]

Who needs Instacart? U.S. farmers expand food deliveries during coronavirus outbreak: Farmers in rural America are expanding food delivery services to meet rising demand from consumers seeking to isolate themselves during the coronavirus pandemic and frustrated by empty grocery-store shelves. In Alex, Oklahoma, married farmers Carrie and Joe Chlebanowski began making “porch deliveries” on Sunday, after suspending sales at a weekly farmers market in Oklahoma City over health concerns. [Reuters]

Criminal Justice

County Sheriff’s Office takes special precautions in jail against coronavirus: Restrictions in visitation, isolation of new bookings, and a lower jail population are all measures taken by the Oklahoma County Sheriff’s Office to stop the spread of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus pandemic. [Free Press OKC] OK Policy has recommended that state prisons must make efforts to safely reduce overcrowding and prepare for possible COVID-19 spread, and jails throughout the state should also be examining similar options.

Oklahoma police departments face critical shortage of protective gear, request donations: Police departments across the metro on Wednesday are faced with a critical shortage of personal protective equipment or PPE. News 9’s Jennifer Pierce has the story. [News9] Coronavirus prompts changes at OKCPD [FOX25]

General News

Two temporary homeless shelters to open Friday in Oklahoma City, help isolate those at risk: Two temporary, alternative-care homeless shelter sites will open at 10 a.m. Friday in Oklahoma City to help isolate high-risk individuals during the COVID-19 pandemic. Starting March 26, individuals will be screened at various meal and shelter sites to see if they qualify to go to one of the temporary shelters. [The Oklahoman]

The people leading when leaders do not: A backlash prompted Gov. Stitt to delete a post, but the next day, a Sunday, after declaring a state of emergency in Oklahoma, a spokesperson said the governor’s outlook had not changed from “remain calm, live your life and support local businesses.” By Monday, two Oklahoma City bloggers were on the phone with a local T-shirt company, eager to spread their own message: They were “staying OklaHome.” [New York Times]

Oklahoma families burying loved ones facing tough decisions due to COVID-19: Many Oklahoma families are now facing a tough decision. Do they have a funeral for their loved one who passed away with fewer people or do they wait until COVID-19 has passed? [FOX25]

Gun sales spike amid COVID-19 concerns: As the country grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, gun sales in Oklahoma have risen. Journal Record editor Russell Ray discusses what gun shop owners are saying about the phenomenon, as well as the psychological reasons for this spike in firearms sales. [KGOU]

For the first time you can complete the Census online, by phone or e-mail: For the first time, you can choose to complete the census online, by phone, or by mail. If you are responding online, you must complete the census in one sitting, as you don’t have the ability to save your progress. You can complete the census online or by phone in 13 different languages. [FOX25] TogetherOK: Your count matters! Census information is used to determine how federal funds are divided among the states for state aid, grants, and program funding. 

Local Headlines

Quote of the Day

“Already faced with a shortage of health care personnel in medical facilities throughout the state, the anticipated surge in critically ill patients will result in over-stressing a system that is already at its maximum effectiveness.”

-Shelly Wells, Oklahoma Nurses Association President-Elect [Tulsa World]

Number of the Day


Percentage of Oklahoma City’s general-fund revenue from sales-tax receipts, which this fiscal year was projected to be about $254 million. Sales taxes are among the largest sources of government revenue in the state, and officials statewide are anticipating how loss of sales tax revenue will impact their communities.  

[Source: NonDoc]

Visit OK Policy’s Online Budget Guide to learn more about sales taxes in the state.

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Why Coronavirus is a food security crisis, too: For weeks, people who use the federal government’s regular Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program have been worrying about how the pandemic will affect their access to groceries. Unlike those American households making huge supermarket hauls in order to hunker down for the duration, families who receive monthly financial infusions from SNAP can only buy so much food at a time. Stocking up isn’t really an option, even as state and local authorities urge residents to do just that. [City Lab]

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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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