In The Know: COVID death rates in rural areas | Masking in schools | Evictions

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. Some stories included here are behind paywall or require subscription. OK Policy encourages the support of Oklahoma’s state and local media, which are vital to an informed citizenry. Subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

Oklahoma News

‘We’ve turned many rural communities into kill boxes.’ COVID death rates higher in rural areas: Rural Americans are dying of COVID at more than twice the rate of their urban counterparts — a divide that health experts say is likely to widen as access to medical care shrinks for a population that tends to be older, sicker, heavier, poorer and less vaccinated. While the initial surge of COVID-19 deaths skipped over much of rural America, where roughly 15% of Americans live, nonmetropolitan mortality rates quickly started to outpace those of metropolitan areas as the virus spread nationwide before vaccinations became available, according to data from the Rural Policy Research Institute. [Kaiser Health News / The Oklahoman]

  • (Podcast) The Source Podcast: COVID booster shots begin as cases decline from peak [The Oklahoman]
  • Does the COVID-19 vaccine affect fertility or pregnancy? Oklahoma doctors offer advice [The Oklahoman]
  • COVID-19 in Oklahoma tracker: Daily updates on new cases, deaths, vaccines for October 2021 [The Oklahoman]
  • Sand Springs family’s COVID battle leaves uncertainty in its wake [Tulsa World]

Gov. Stitt still supports banning mask mandates in public schools despite pandemic’s classroom upheaval: With broadly poor student test scores revealed Thursday after the pandemic’s classroom upheaval, the governor remains steadfast in the state’s effort to remove an injunction so that it can once again block public school districts from implementing mask requirements. Two recent studies published by the CDC highlight how universal masking in schools as part of a layered mitigation approach is important to stop the spread of COVID-19 and minimize disruptions to student learning. The U.S. Department of Education is investigating Oklahoma and four other states for potentially failing to meet the needs of students with disabilities because of prohibitions against masking in schools. [Tulsa World]

Health News

Free dental clinic sees fewer patients, more taking advantage of Medicaid expansion: A less hectic round two of the new community clinic offering free dental care saw nearly half as many people take advantage of the medical services Friday. Sixty-five patients young and old were seen and treated at Great Plains Family Dentistry, down from the 133 patients who attended the first free clinic held in May. [Enid News & Eagle]

Limit admissions or close down? Oklahoma nursing homes, losing workers, make tough choices: Already dealing with workforce shortages and the brunt of a pandemic, nursing homes are now facing a grim choice: limit new admissions or shut down entirely. A new survey, conducted by the American Health Care Association and the National Center for Assisted Living, found the workforce situation has worsened over the last three months for 86% of nursing homes and 77% of assisted living providers nationwide. [The Oklahoman]

State Government News

Oklahoma, national murder rates highest in decades even as overall crime rates fall: The number of murders in Oklahoma reached a two-decade high last year, according to new data released by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, a rise that mirrored the national trend. Homicides in the U.S. in 2020 increased nearly 30% over the previous year, the largest one-year jump since the FBI began keeping records, according to figures released last week by the agency. [The Oklahoman]

  • Grading Oklahoma: Oklahoma is 14th in violent crime in the nation [The Oklahoman]

Here’s what to know as the OMMA boosts medical marijuana oversight in Oklahoma: Recently appointed leaders of the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority on Friday highlighted initial changes to industry oversight and touched on further action needed to ensure one of the nation’s largest marijuana markets is in compliance with state law. [The Oklahoman] After her first 30 days on the job, the new head of the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority said the agency is in the middle of building its staff to ensure compliance and help the state uncover illegal operations. [Public Radio Tulsa]

A subsidy covering 3 months of child care is now available to all Oklahoma parents looking for work: The Oklahoma Department of Human Services has expanded a free child care benefit for Oklahomans who have lost their jobs. Three months of fully subsidized child care are now available to parents while they look for work. While the CARES Act–funded program has been around since May 2020, it was previously limited to people who lost their jobs due to COVID, and it covered only 60 days. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Political notebook: Data privacy again on Legislature’s radar; bill would make gun silencers legal: State Rep. Logan Phillips, R-Mounds, said he will pursue data privacy legislation in the 2022 session. Phillips, chairman of the House Technology Committee, said his bill would require internet sites to more conspicuously display the types of personal information they collect, and fine them for violating their own privacy statements. [Tulsa World]

Turnpike authority sees nearly half a million PlatePay transactions in 1st month of cashless tolling: The Oklahoma Turnpike Authority reported nearly half a million transactions during its first full month using a cash-free tolling system. The roughly 476,000 PlatePay transactions on the Kilpatrick Turnpike represented just under 3% of all traffic on the state’s toll roads in August. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Federal Government News

‘These aren’t the bad guys’: Afghanistan refugees’ arrival in Oklahoma has retired Army colonel back in action: A 20-year veteran of the U.S. Armed Forces who served in Afghanistan wants Oklahomans to understand something about the refugees being resettled here. “These are people that are asking for our help,” said retired U.S. Army Col. Mike FitzGerald. “They are young families with small children. These aren’t the bad guys.” [Tulsa World]

AP: States and cities slow to spend federal pandemic money: As Congress considered a massive COVID-19 relief package earlier this year, hundreds of mayors from across the U.S. pleaded for “immediate action” on billions of dollars targeted to shore up their finances and revive their communities. Now that they’ve received it, local officials are taking their time before actually spending the windfall. Five Republican-led states — Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee and Texas — waited so long that they weren’t required to file reports by the Treasury’s Aug. 31 deadline. [AP News]

Tribal Nations News

Convicted Oklahoma killer contends McGirt is retroactive: Attorneys for a man convicted of murder in Oklahoma have appealed a state court’s ruling that a U.S. Supreme Court decision limiting state jurisdiction for crimes committed on tribal reservations by or against tribal citizens does not apply retroactively. [AP News]

Criminal Justice News

Former Oklahoma GOP chair, lobbyist once convicted of cocaine use suggested for jail trust: Oklahoma County Commissioner Kevin Calvey has named Chad Alexander as his pick to fill the spot on the jail trust vacated last week by former Lt. Governor Todd Lamb. Alexander’s name appeared on the agenda for consideration at Monday’s county commissioners’ meeting days after Calvey scratched an item regarding Lamb’s resignation from the previous agenda. [The Oklahoman]

OUPD Chief Nate Tarver: ‘We must be open-minded’: When he was studying broadcast journalism at the University of Oklahoma, Nate Tarver had no idea he would one day serve as chief of police across all three OU campuses. Tarver was named OU’s chief of police in September 2020, succeeding former Chief Liz Woollen, who held the position for 17 years. [NonDoc]

Board to consider clemency Tuesday for Osage County killer: Osage County killer John Marion Grant could be the first person executed since the state halted the process in 2015. Grant was sentenced to death for the 1998 killing of 58-year-old Dick Conner Correctional Center employee Gay Carter. [Tulsa World] John Marion Grant’s hearing before the Pardon and Parole Board is Tuesday morning. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Column: Local jails and officers can no longer shoulder the burden of Oklahoma’s mental health crisis: Today, our mental health care system is fragmented, underfunded and difficult to navigate. Mental illness often results in a vicious cycle of poverty, homelessness and incarceration. The state’s negligence regarding mental health services and failure to fund local mental health treatment programs as promised in State Questions 780 and 781 have turned law enforcement officers into the primary responders to the mental health crisis. Jails have become the treatment centers for people with mental illness. [Tulsa County Sheriff Vic Regalado Op-Ed / Tulsa World]

Economic Opportunity

An evictions ‘wave’ hit Tulsa, but not the way some officials expected: With a federal moratorium no longer in place, Tulsa landlords filed more evictions in September than any month since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it wasn’t the huge wave that some officials expected. Landlords filed 906 cases in September compared to an average of about 700 per month during the moratorium, which restricted what reasons a landlord could give for seeking an eviction, according to data from Open Justice Oklahoma, a program of the Oklahoma Policy Institute. [Tulsa World]

Economy & Business News

September one of the hottest, driest on record in Oklahoma, state climatologist says: September was Oklahoma’s 17th warmest and driest month since records began in 1895, with Tulsa seeing two and a half times the average number of days with temperatures at or above 90 degrees, the state climatologist and the National Weather Service said. [Tulsa World]

  • Oklahoma’s winter could be brutal, according to the Farmer’s Almanac predictions [The Oklahoman]

Education News

Oklahoma Student Learning in a Pandemic: Test Results Show Heavy Toll: Oklahoma students lost ground in nearly every grade and subject as they struggled to learn amid COVID-19 disruptions, newly released test score data shows. Results from state assessments taken by students in the spring show significant declines when compared to 2019, the last time students took state assessments. The 2020 exams were canceled at the onset of the pandemic. [Oklahoma Watch] “The effects of the pandemic will be seen and felt for years to come,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister. “There is no quick fix.” [AP News] But Hofmeister and other state officials say you’ll need to dig a little deeper to interpret the data. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Epic co-founders potentially owe millions to the school they created, officials say: Epic Charter Schools is still waiting for its co-founders to repay potentially millions of dollars from an account that for years has been hidden from public view. School officials said the co-founders’ company, Epic Youth Services, failed to meet a Thursday deadline to turn over money and bank records owed to the virtual school system — a deadline the co-founders deny knowledge of. [The Oklahoman]

General News

Tulsa Race Massacre survivors have day in court as judge weighs whether their case will go to trial: The fate of three Tulsa Race Massacre survivors’ lawsuit against the city remains in the hands of a judge after they and their attorneys spent about six hours in court this week arguing over whether the case should go to trial. [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma Local News

  • City, EPD to launch new online open records request, management system Monday [Enid News & Eagle]
  • Free clinic in OKC’s Eastside aims to bring critical health care access to those who need it [The Oklahoman]
  • Hundreds march in downtown Tulsa as part of national campaign to support abortion rights [Tulsa World]
  • Tulsa Transit is now requiring medical exemption forms for riders who want to go maskless on buses [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • Proposed ward boundaries unlikely to impact 2022 elections [The Norman Transcript]
  • Payne County adopts new commission district boundaries [Stillwater News Press]
  • Former Thunder worker gets probation, fine for demonstrating inside U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6 [The Oklahoman]

Quote of the Day

“It sure is a challenge to go out there and search for your next … career move without the support of knowing that your child is safe and they are being taken care of by a quality childcare provider.”

-OKDHS Adult and Family Services Director Deb Smith, noting that access to child care is an economic issue. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Number of the Day


Number of Tulsa households that have received support through the federally funded Emergency Rental Assistance Program, which has distributed more than $15 million to Tulsa tenants since payments began in April [Tulsa World]

Policy Note

Evictions and the Pandemic Economy in the Tenth District: Very few events in history have had as much an effect on human life and the economy as the COVID-19 pandemic. When the virus first emerged, public health authorities and government leaders enacted policies to curtail transmission and consumers reduced their activity in public spaces such as restaurants. Schools switched to online learning. Offices emptied as employers had many employees work from home. Travel halted abruptly, leading to hotel closures and cancelled flights. Restaurants shifted to take-out only or closed completely. Millions across the U.S. became unemployed in the largest mass layoff since the Great Depression. Disproportionate effects were felt especially in low-wage jobs, affecting many women and people of color. [Kansas City Fed]

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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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