In The Know: Gov. Stitt to release White House virus reports | Schools are ‘super spreader’ | A closer look at virus numbers

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

Gov. Stitt bows to pressure to release White House reports on coronavirus: Following complaints from local Oklahoma officials who say they have been kept out of the loop, Gov. Kevin Stitt said his administration will make public coronavirus reports the state receives from the White House. Stitt has not been releasing the reports from the White House Coronavirus Task Force, nor implementing many of the public health recommendations in those reports. [The Oklahoman] Stitt previously has said Dr. Deborah Birx made no specific recommendations to him while visiting privately with a handful of state officials Aug. 16. However, the latest White House document that recommends several concrete actions is dated the same day, Aug. 16. Birx, a high-ranking infectious disease adviser for the White House since 2014, wasn’t made available to reporters after the Tulsa meeting, although she has been while visiting other states. [Tulsa World]

  • Local officials across Oklahoma ‘blindsided,’ ‘shocked’ by White House report not shared by Governor [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • Editorial: White House tells state to put on masks, close bars​; Stitt maintains see-no-evil policy [Tulsa World]

Schools become a new COVID-19 ‘super spreader’ as classes resume: As schools continue to open across the state, with many holding some form of in-person learning, the inevitable rise in COVID-19 cases among students and staff has schools working to mitigate further spread, while others abandon their plans and pivot to complete virtual programs. [The Frontier]

  • Stillwater schools shift to distance learning [Stillwater News Press]
  • More than 360 Enid students “affected” by COVID-19, district tallies show [Enid News & Eagle]
  • Normalcy not normal for students during pandemic [The Oklahoman]
  • Attendance at Tulsa Public Schools will be tied to completion of assignments during distance learning this fall [Tulsa World]
  • Opinion: Public school teachers deserve hazard pay [Op-Ed / The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma schools COVID-19 guidelines are widely ignored by many rural districts: The state advises schools to close and have students learn from home when their county reaches Orange Level 2 — 25 cases per 100,000 people — in the state’s color-coded alert system. The Oklahoman and StateImpact surveyed 136 districts in counties at Orange Level 2 or the higher Red Level and found only six will start the year with distance learning. [StateImpact Oklahoma]

Oklahoma’s coronavirus death toll reflects July outbreak: More Oklahomans died after becoming infected with the coronavirus in July than any other month so far. Since the first documented COVID-19 death in March, 715 Oklahomans have died after an infection, according to state health data. Of those, 202 became sick in July, more than any other month in the pandemic, according to data analysis by The Frontier. [The Frontier]

Health News

COVID-19 exacerbates Oklahoma’s decades-old nursing shortage: Oklahoma has been in a nursing shortage for decades, and the pandemic has only exacerbated the problem. When Oklahoma first identified its nursing shortage, George W. Bush was still president. The United States entered a nationwide nursing shortage in 2001, and Oklahoma has been in one since. [StateImpact Oklahoma

OU Medicine chief explains why you should trust a positive result from a rapid COVID-19 test: OU Medicine Enterprise Chief Quality Officer Dale Bratzler answered questions Friday regarding the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the rise in deaths in Oklahoma and the difference in coronavirus tests. [The Oklahoman]

Opinion: COVID’s heavy mental toll continues: More than 40% of respondents in a recent CDC survey said they experienced a mental or behavioral health condition connected to the pandemic, with young adults, essential workers, minorities, those caring for adults, and those who were already being treated for psychiatric conditions especially hard hit. [The Oklahoman Editorial Board]

Opinion: Should TSET fund part of Oklahoma Medicaid expansion bill?: State Question 814, if approved, would increase the sum of money the Legislature gets each year from the Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust. Voters created the trust in 2000 after Oklahoma joined 45 other states in a settlement agreement with tobacco companies. [The Oklahoman Editorial Board] OK Policy: TSET funds are among many options the state has available to fund Medicaid expansion.

State Government News

Oklahoma AG objects to lawsuit seeking expanded absentee voting: Abolishing notary and photo ID requirements to cast a ballot in the state would lead to “electoral disruption and facilitate voter fraud,” Attorney General Mike Hunter said Friday. Hunter’s comments are in response to a lawsuit filed in Tulsa federal court that challenges the constitutionality of those requirements and others as a condition to cast a ballot in the state. [Tulsa World] OK Policy: More accessible methods will not lead to increased voter fraud.

‘There’s been stops and starts’: Oklahoma Attorney General wants agreement between state and tribes: The state of Oklahoma and leaders of the Five Tribes are just beginning to figure out how they will handle criminal jurisdiction and other matters in the wake of the historic U.S. Supreme Court decision McGirt v. Oklahoma. [KOSU] Oklahomans have questions about McGirt? Tribes and Attorney General have an FAQ for that [KOSU]

Campaign contributions top $375k from Epic Charter Schools founders, backers: The operators of Epic Charter Schools and their backers have continued to promote and protect their political interests at the state Capitol by donating to candidates as law enforcement and state auditor’s investigations have been underway. [Tulsa World]

State alcohol commission sets revenue record: July broke a revenue record for the Alcoholic Beverage Laws Enforcement Commission. Fees from licensing, penalties, fees, registrations and surcharges brought in $3.2 million in July, the panel was told during its regular meeting Friday. The figure represented a nearly 26% increase above July 2019, according to figures supplied by the agency. [Tulsa World]

Political notebook: Lawmakers look at state-administered retirement plan for private sector workers: Two lawmakers said last week they plan to pursue a state-managed retirement plan for private sector workers whose employers do not offer such a benefit. [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma Legislature among worst in fundraising gender parity: Oklahoma ranks among the worst states nationwide in fundraising gender parity in the state Legislature, according to a new study by the National Institute on Money in Politics. In Oklahoma, male lawmakers outraised their female counterparts by a median $24,253 from 2016-19, the analysis found. Female lawmakers raised a median $84,396 while male legislators raised a median $108,649. [CNHI]

Capitol Insider: State Enters Into New Tribal Compacts (audio): Although the legality will likely be questioned, the state of Oklahoma has entered into compacts with two more Native American tribes. KGOU’s Dick Pryor and eCapitol’s Shawn Ashley discuss that story and the latest on the state’s coronavirus response as schools prepare to open, in the latest Capitol Insider. [KGOU]

Federal Government News

‘I depend on the mail’: Tulsans rally in support of embattled United States Postal Service: Enthusiastic and concerned Tulsans rallied outside the U.S. Postal Service downtown location demanding support for mail carriers and the industry in general in response to reported service cuts. [Tulsa World]

State delegation splits along party lines on postal vote: Rep. Kendra Horn, D-Oklahoma City, voted for the bill that would reverse some changes made at the U.S. Postal service and allocate billions of dollars to the service. Republican Reps. Tom Cole, R-Moore; Kevin Hern, R-Tulsa; Frank Lucas, R-Cheyenne; and Markwayne Mullin, R-Westville, voted against. [The Oklahoman] While all eyes were on DeJoy’s testimony, the House Rules Committee was also holding a hearing that could affect the postal service. They debated the Delivering for America Act, which would give the postal service $25 billion in emergency funding, undo any changes to operations made since Jan. 1 and prohibit new changes until at least next year. [Public Radio Tulsa]

  • D.C. Digest: Lankford discounts Postal Service reports [Tulsa World]

Criminal Justice News

Listen Frontier: Oklahoma County Commissioner Carrie Blumert (audio): Oklahoma County Commissioner Carrie Blumert shares her thoughts on a recent vote to rush through federal funds for the Oklahoma County Jail, and The Frontier’s Brianna Bailey talks about her recent reporting on the facility. [The Frontier]

Opinion: Oklahoma’s failure to pass bail reform is a crime against justice: The argument for bail reform that state Rep. Meloyde Blancett posted on her Facebook page last week is so convincing that it’s hard to believe the Legislature hasn’t listened. But it hasn’t … for years. Blancett has filed bail reform legislation every year she has been in the Legislature. So far, the jail-industrial complex has prevailed. [Opinion Column / Tulsa World]

Economic Opportunity

‘Snapshot’ of COVID-19 impact on Tulsans shows job loss, food insecurity, distance learning challenges: Job loss, food insecurity and difficulties adapting to distance learning were among the problems that many low-income school families in Tulsa found themselves facing last spring due to COVID-19, a new study reports. [Tulsa World]

Opinion: Keep businesses open, employees paid and families fed. It’s a SNAP: Across the country, during shutdowns we saw the emergence of many programs that paid restaurants to produce meals for people struggling with food insecurity. These programs received a groundswell of support from individuals, foundations and corporations because they accomplished three goals: stimulating local businesses and economies, maintaining jobs and feeding hungry people. These programs provided “win, win, win” scenarios. [Op-Ed / Tulsa World

Education News

Coronavirus testing plan developed for Oklahoma teachers: Oklahoma’s departments of health and education announced a plan Friday that would allow public school teachers to be voluntarily tested for the coronavirus. The plan provides all teachers and school support staff free coronavirus testing in their areas, according to a news release. [AP News]

More than 4,500 OU students were tested prior to moving into on-campus housing, and 62 were positive for COVID-19: Less than 2% of the University of Oklahoma students returning to on-campus housing tested positive for COVID-19 before their planned arrival, OU announced Friday. [The Oklahoman]

Opinion: COVID relief funding helping OKC schools fill technology gap: Oklahoma City Public Schools is in the process of deploying technology devices for every student in the district. Providing technology access for all students in a school district (1:1 technology) has been a favored scenario throughout the world of K-12 education for many years. [Op-Ed / The Oklahoman]

Opinion: Maintaining our lead in STEM fields means reaching all learners: Our nation has been a leader in science, technology, engineering and mathematics — the so-called STEM disciplines — for decades. Our discoveries and inventions are too many to list. They have impacted the way we live and work. However, there has been also a historical underrepresentation of minorities, women, physically disabled people as well as those with special challenges including autistic individuals. [Op-Ed / Tulsa World]

Editorial: Epic Charter Schools should drop dispute with state senator and concentrate on educating children: The school has the same protections against defamation as any other Oklahoma business, but spending public money brings with it appropriate scrutiny — as every Oklahoma public school district knows. We have to think that Epic’s efforts would be better spent making sure it is providing an excellent education to its students than pursuing this dispute any further. [Editorial / Tulsa World]

General News

In Tulsa, where race relations are raw, a white mayor feels the heat: Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum finds himself on the defensive over the presidential campaign, the coronavirus pandemic and the uproar over police abuse. [New York Times] Among Bynum’s challengers is a young Black community organizer, Greg Robinson, whose last-minute campaign has generated a buzz in a longtime Republican stronghold that is increasingly seeing Democrats win local races. [AP News] Tulsans will go to the polls Tuesday to vote on who will be their next mayor. The crowded, all-male field features seven candidates vying for a four-year term as the city’s top elected official. [NonDoc]

Preserving history in a hallowed place: About 75 people gathered Friday to break ground on the Greenwood Rising Black Wall Street History Center in Tulsa. The ceremony took place at the southeast corner of Greenwood Avenue and Archer Street in the historic Greenwood District, where more than one speaker reminded the crowd that hundreds of Black Tulsans died in 1921 at the hands of white mobs. [The Oklahoman] The history center will tell the Greenwood District’s stories from before and after the racist attack. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Opinion: Four ways to engage the Tulsa public in solving Tulsa’s most pressing problems: The world is complicated and challenging, but we have opportunities to tackle those challenges. Tulsa, for example, has a nearly 11-year life expectancy difference between ZIP codes in north and south Tulsa. This problem is not new. However, the latest protests for #BlackLivesMatter and COVID-19 have made these inequalities more pronounced. We need to engage with one another to start addressing these problems. [Op-Ed / Tulsa World]

Opinion: A century after women’s suffrage, more than half of U.S. women don’t vote: The 100th anniversary of 19th Amendment ratification is obviously a moment for celebration, with the fun of period costumes, signs and speeches. Those in attendance Tuesday at the Tulsa Historical Society know their women’s history and current events. There was also a sober undertone. [Opinion Column / Tulsa World]

Child deaths in hot cars: Oklahoma among worst in nation: Oklahoma is second behind Texas in pediatric vehicular heatstroke deaths, with the Sooner state’s southern neighbor logging five such fatalities. In the United States, an average of 39 children die each year of vehicular heat stroke. By one estimate, Oklahoma ranks fifth-worst overall in the U.S. and Washington, D.C. [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma Local News

  • Public comment officially reinstated at Oklahoma County meetings [The Oklahoman] [OKC Free Press]
  • Tulsa propositions range from minutia to expanded council powers [Tulsa World]
  • Norman residents to vote on bonds with a combined cost of about $120 million [KGOU]
  • Woodward school bond vote Tuesday [Woodward News]

Quote of the Day

“(O)ut of 30 teachers, I’m going to be starting the school year with six employees basically gone because of COVID-related reasons. I thought, ‘That’s a fifth of my staff. How are we going to have school with a fifth of my staff gone?’”

-Dewar School Superintendent Todd Been [StateImpact Oklahoma]

Number of the Day


Oklahoma’s Census self-response rate as of Aug. 20. The national average is 64.2 percent. [Source: U.S. Census Bureau

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

2020 Census Delays and the Impact on Redistricting: The Census Bureau’s reversal in its operational plans means a cut-back in data collection by a month and an accelerated pace to complete data collection. It signaled the Bureau’s intention to deliver apportionment counts by the statutory deadline of December 31, 2020. The announcement does not address the release of data for redistricting. Information provided below was developed with the requested delays in mind. It is unclear whether Congress will take action on the delays. [National Conference of State Legislatures]

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David Hamby has more than 25 years of experience as an award-winning communicator, including overseeing communication programs for Oklahoma higher education institutions and other organizations. Before joining OK Policy, he was director of public relations for Rogers State University where he managed the school’s external communication programs and served as a member of the president’s leadership team. He served in a similar communications role for five years at the University of Tulsa. He also has worked in communications roles at Oklahoma State University and the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce in Arkansas. He joined OK Policy in October 2019.

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