In The Know: Does state have enough contact tracers to track virus?; future of Gov.’s health care plan still unclear; 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. 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

State plans to hire fewer contact tracers than experts recommend: As the state reopens from lockdown,  health officials say more than 500 new temporary hires will soon supplement the 250 to 350 contract tracers now working throughout the state. But even with these reinforcements, some experts say, Oklahoma and most other states are doing too little, and too late. [Oklahoma Watch] What do contact tracers do? A reporter attends a training course to find out [Oklahoma Watch] Mapping the need for contact tracers. [Oklahoma Watch]

Lawmakers say path forward for Stitt health care plan is unclear: Lawmakers said the path forward for Gov. Kevin Stitt’s keystone Medicaid expansion proposal is unclear after the Republican leader unexpectedly vetoed its key funding mechanism. Surprised Republican and Democrat legislative leaders said they’re looking to Stitt for guidance after the GOP leader flummoxed them by vetoing the SoonerCare 2.0 funding plan he pitched. [CNHI via The Express Star]

Will COVID-19 prompt “holdout states” to reconsider Medicaid expansion?: Medicaid expansion was a hot button issue in Oklahoma even before COVID-19. A 2019 voter-initiated referendum, which called for the expansion of Medicaid under the terms outlined in the ACA, received overwhelming public support and was placed on the June 30 state primary election ballot. If approved, the Medicaid expansion would take effect as of July 1, 2021. [The National Law Review] Medicaid expansion campaign begins 4-day, 21-city tour of Oklahoma [KFOR]

Coronavirus in Oklahoma daily update: 47 new cases; 5 new deaths: Oklahoma’s number of positive COVID-19 cases now stands at 6,137, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health. The Health Department reported five additional deaths on Tuesday — none of which occurred in the past 24 hours. [The Oklahoman] Visit for the latest COVID-19 numbers in Oklahoma.

Health News

How mask mandates were beaten down in rural Oklahoma: Oklahoma’s state government is currently implementing one of the country’s fastest reopening plans. By early June, many businesses could be operating near normal capacity. [The New Yorker]

Hospital begins limited visitation amid Oklahoma reopening: An Oklahoma City-based hospital system on Tuesday began allowing limited visitation to most patients, including those with the coronavirus, as the state continues to reopen. [AP News]

Opinion: Oklahoma bans ‘quality of life’ health-care rationing: As many in the bioethics movement push various schemes to ration health care based on “quality of life” some are pushing back and insisting that health-care coverage and treatment public policy be predicated on the intrinsic equal dignity and moral worth of all patients. [Opinion / National Review]

State to get new decontamination system for N95 masks: Hospitals, health care workers, and first responders in Oklahoma will soon have the option of recycling their N95 masks with the state receiving a new decontamination system developed by Battelle, a global research and development organization headquartered in Columbus, Ohio. [Ponca City News

Mental health effects expected to long outlast COVID-19: As society begins to reopen from the coronavirus pandemic, mental health experts warn the mental health effects of the pandemic and shutdown may far outlive the virus. [Enid News & Eagle]

State Government News

State Chamber says no conflicts of interest in legal filing despite Epic Charter Schools’ membership, school founder on Chamber board of directors: The State Chamber of Oklahoma wants to intervene in the state’s legal effort to compel Epic Charter Schools’ for-profit operator to comply with an investigative audit but did not disclose to the court that Epic is a dues-paying member and its founder is on the chamber’s board of directors. [Tulsa World]

OESC pays/rejects unemployment claims: The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission received a record 423,225 claims for unemployment benefits by April 21. The agency has deemed 223,598 of those claims eligible and 199,627 ineligible, according to OESC public information officer Trey Davis. [Southwest Ledger]

Oklahoma House speaker weighs in on unique Legislative session (video): News 9 political analyst Scott Mitchell speaks with House Speaker Rep. Charles McCall about one of the most unique legislative sessions in Oklahoma history. [News9]

One-on-one with Col. Lance Frye: Interim health chief talks new role, post-Memorial Day Weekend surge: Last week, Gov. Kevin Stitt named Colonel Lance Frye as the new interim Oklahoma Commissioner of Health. Col. Frye has been involved with he state’s COVID-19 response throughout the process, specifically involved in Oklahoma’s surge plan. [FOX25]

Federal Government News

Inhofe says Justice Department has cleared him in stock sale inquiry: The U.S. Justice Department has cleared U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe of wrongdoing in the sale of stocks in five companies after a briefing about the spread of the coronavirus, Inhofe said Tuesday. [The Oklahoman] Law enforcement officials told three senators, including Senator Inhofe, that they would not be pursuing charges, but an investigation into trades by Senator Richard Burr of North Carolina appears to be proceeding. [New York Times] The senators came under scrutiny for transactions made in the weeks before the coronavirus sent markets downhill. [AP News via Public Radio Tulsa]

Edmondson to U.S. attorney: Investigate Oklahoma rooster shipments to Guam: Former Oklahoma Attorney General Drew Edmondson and several organizations dedicated to fighting animal abuse are calling for county and federal investigations into rooster shipments to Guam for cockfighting activities, the groups announced Tuesday. [NonDoc] Public shipping records examined by the rights groups show Oklahoma to be the top exporter to Guam of chickens bred for fighting, which is illegal in the United States and its territories. [Tulsa World]

Criminal Justice News

Supreme Court: State Question 805 signatures must be accepted: The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled Tuesday in favor of an appeal from the State Question 805 campaign, requiring the Secretary of State’s office to accept the group’s initiative petition signatures despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. [The Oklahoman] The Secretary of State’s office said it wouldn’t accept more than 260,000 signatures supporting the ballot initiative because the work would put the office at risk of spreading coronavirus. [KOSU]

Tulsa County renews immigration enforcement program after strong defense from sheriff: Tulsa County Sheriff Vic Regalado gave an impassioned defense Tuesday of his department’s participation in a federal immigration enforcement program officials say is designed to identify and detain illegal immigrants facing serious criminal charges. [Tulsa World] Ted Bakamjian, with the coalition ACTION — Allied Communities of Tulsa Inspiring Our Neighborhoods, said state law adequately addresses serious crimes immigrants might commit, making the program an overall detriment to public safety. [Public Radio Tulsa

Muskogee County disinfects facility after employee tests positive for COVID-19: A resurgence of COVID-19 cases in Muskogee County prompted the temporary closure on Monday of the County Services Building after an employee tested positive for the novel coronavirus that causes the disease. [Muskogee Phoenix]

142 county jail inmates test positive for virus: Agreements are in place to handle any new inmates at the Comanche County Detention Center, after almost all inmates who tested negative for COVID-19 were transferred out of the facility, Administrator William Hobbs told Comanche County Board of Commissioners Tuesday. [Lawton Constitution]

Economic Opportunity

Even with 1,000 eviction cases filed since March, no COVID spike yet: Even though anxieties are running high as eviction petitions continue to add up in the court system in Oklahoma County, actual cases filed so far since March 15 are not up to their normal levels. The state’s record-setting number of filings for unemployment and a general sense of financial peril leave some wondering when an eviction spike will occur. That number comes from the Oklahoma Court Tracker provided by the think tank Oklahoma Policy Institute. [Free Press OKC] OK Policy: Reopening Oklahoma’s courts must be done thoughtfully to avoid a public health disaster.

Economy & Business News

Local lessons: Small business program to get $5M from CARES Act funding: With hundreds of local businesses on the verge of closing and thousands of Oklahomans on the verge of homelessness, members of the Oklahoma City Council on Tuesday took a close look at how best to use the $114 million the city has received in federal coronavirus relief funds. [The Journal Record]

Nonstop destinations from Tulsa International Airport nearly sliced in half by COVID-19: Although hope has peeked through the clouds in recent days, Tulsa International Airport has seen nine of 20 nonstop flights suspended since the arrival of COVID-19. [Tulsa World]

No action taken on oil production proposal: Members of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission agreed on Tuesday to keep an order in place for now giving oil producers the ability to shut in unprofitable wells without losing lease rights. [The Journal Record]

Gasoline prices push higher as demand begins to return, AAA reports: Gas prices for drivers across Oklahoma and the nation climbed over the past week. Nationally, the average cost of a gallon of gasoline Tuesday was $1.96, while in Oklahoma, drivers were paying an average of about $1.63 per gallon for fuel, AAA officials said. [The Oklahoman]

General News

Facing death threats and no pay, mayors are the front-line commanders of the coronavirus pandemic:One of the worst days of Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum’s life was in March when he ordered the closure of all bars and restaurants in in his community – two days after the governor encouraged Oklahomans to follow his lead and dine out. [USA Today via Grand Lake News]

The Coronavirus Storytelling Project: Life in quarantine: Hurting, hoping and adapting to the new norm: In the last few months, everyone’s definition of a normal day has changed. This change has permeated simple tasks like grocery shopping, making them feel like a gamble. [Oklahoma Watch] Coping with the unexpected while expecting during a pandemic: I was in Kansas City when the sports world stopped turning. As Oklahoma State’s men’s basketball team beat Iowa State to open the Big 12 Tournament, the Oklahoma City Thunder and Utah Jazz were pulled from the court 349 miles away in Oklahoma City. [Oklahoma Watch]

Several events planned Sunday to commemorate 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre: A virtual commemoration and a special service at Vernon A.M.E Church are among the events planned for Sunday to mark the two days 99 years ago when one of the nation’s most thriving African American communities was destroyed in the 1921 Race Massacre. [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma Local News

  • Pandemic behind proposed city budget cuts in Oklahoma City [The Oklahoman]
  • Oklahoma City Council approves Costco incentive, allocates CARES Act money [Free Press OKC]
  • MAPS 4 Citizens Advisory Board appointments first step into next decade [Free Press OKC]
  • Oklahoma County prosecutor suspected of assaulting estranged wife resigns [The Oklahoman]
  • City budget ‘a moving target’ during COVID-19 [Norman Transcript]
  • Police: Norman officer’s email violated department policy [The Oklahoman]
  • OU football: Voluntary workouts to start July 1, well after many other Power 5 schools [The Oklahoman]
  • Guthire City City council holds first in-person meeting [Guthrie News Leader]
  • Lawton City Council delays approval of next year’s budget [Lawton Constitution]

Quote of the Day

“A lot of these rural hospitals have either been cut back or closed. The extent to which we’ve really hindered the capacity of rural communities and public health in general is starting to show in our incidence rates, but also in our death rates.”

-Randolph Hubach, an Oklahoma State University researcher studying health outcomes, speaking about the state’s lack of health care in rural areas [The New Yorker]

Number of the Day

282, 511

The number of medical marijuana patient licenses approved by the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority as of May 1, 2020.

[Source: Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority]

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Another $15 billion for food stamps, but poor households find groceries out of reach: In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, Congress last month approved more than $15 billion for the food stamps program, which provides assistance for 1.8 million low-income Pennsylvanians to purchase groceries. Yet 40% of households receiving food stamps — the neediest recipients — won’t see any increase in their benefits. And widespread access to online grocery delivery using food stamps remains limited after years of bureaucratic delays and technical challenges. [Pittsburg Post-Gazette]

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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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