In The Know: Governor declares health emergency; special session called for Monday; 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

Statement: Gov. Stitt should approve 283 commutations to decrease prison overcrowding and reduce the risk of a COVID-19 outbreak: Amid the state’s growing COVID-19 public health crisis, eight organizations are urging Governor Stitt to grant more than 200 unsigned commutations to reduce the risk of an outbreak in Oklahoma prisons. [OK Policy]

Oklahoma needs Medicaid expansion yesterday: Oklahoma officials have told federal regulators that the state intends to expand Medicaid in our state starting July 1 as part of Gov. Stitt’s health care proposal. Oklahoma’s Medicaid expansion is long overdue, but focusing attention on a July 1 start date overlooks an important fact: there is nothing preventing Oklahoma from expanding Medicaid now, and Gov. Stitt should act to do so as soon as possible. [Carly Putnam / OK Policy]

Evictions update: OK Policy’s Open Justice Oklahoma program searched court records and found that nearly two dozen Oklahoma families in Muskogee, Cleveland, and Garfield counties were evicted this week through hearings held by telephone. Policymakers must do more to prevent evictions and foreclosures during and after the COVID-19 crisis. We’re tracking these cases with our Oklahoma Court Tracker tool

Oklahoma News

Stitt declares ‘health emergency,’ triggers special session of Legislature: Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt has declared a “health emergency,” triggering a state statute that requires a special session of the Oklahoma Legislature to convene 8 a.m. Monday, April 6. [NonDoc] In an executive order, he said the purpose of the session is to concur with or terminate his declaration of a health emergency. Lawmakers and staff have been working remotely since March 17, when a staffer tested positive for COVID-19. [Tulsa World] The declaration, if approved by the Legislature, would give Stitt more power to respond to the current public health crisis. [The Oklahoman]

Stitt urges more Oklahomans to get tested as more mobile sites spring up: Gov. Kevin Stitt on Thursday urged more Oklahomans to get tested for COVID-19, saying hospitals and county health departments need to “loosen their standards.” [The Oklahoman] Until Wednesday, the state had strict guidelines on who was eligible to be tested. Those restrictions included healthcare workers and seriously ill people who had already been hospitalized. [KOSU] As of Thursday (4/1/20) morning, there are 879 confirmed cases, 257 hospitalizations, and 34 deaths. [Oklahoma Health Department]

As Oklahoma tries to forecast the impact of coronavirus, a lack of data surrounding testing: As Oklahoma officials and health experts work to forecast the impact the novel coronavirus will have, the state is ramping up efforts to collect vital data that so far has been lacking: How many people have been tested, and how many are infected? [The Frontier] Two more deaths in Tulsa County; another spike in cases reported across Oklahoma. [Tulsa World]

Unemployment claims in Oklahoma skyrocket in response to COVID-19 pandemic, newly released data shows: Initial claims by workers seeking unemployment insurance in Oklahoma skyrocketed by 2,866 percent since the beginning of March, new unemployment numbers released by the U.S. Department of Labor on Thursday show. [The Frontier] According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 44,970 people reached out to the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission for help after losing jobs in the week that ended March 28. [The Journal Record] The previous week, 21,926 people filed. [The Oklahoman] If initial claims maintain the same filing pace this week, it means more initial claims have been filed in the past three weeks than all of 2019, when about 100,000 claims were filed. [Tulsa World]

Groups urge Stitt to grant nearly 300 commutations waiting approval: Several groups are urging Gov. Kevin Stitt to grant commutations for the nearly 300 incarcerated individuals whose cases are already approved by the Pardon and Parole Board. [The Oklahoman] Reform advocates say sub-par hygiene standards in prison, overcrowding and a shortage of hospitals in the rural areas where many correctional facilities are located makes reducing the prison population especially important now. [KOSU] Fifty Oklahoma counties, largely in rural areas, have no ICU beds. Many of our state’s overcrowded prisons are also located in these rural areas, putting area hospitals at severe risk of being unable to handle a prison outbreak of COVID-19. [Newcastle Pacer]

The Oklahoman Editorial: Should desperate measures include inmate releases? The COVID-19 pandemic has most Americans being forced to stay home unless it’s essential they leave, because these desperate times require desperate measures. Should those include setting some inmates free early? [Editorial Board / The Oklahoman]

Health News

Information gaps create confusion: Public health officials have struggled to keep pace with demands for information about the fast-moving coronavirus, creating confusion about some of the most basic details. The Oklahoma State Health Department has been providing statistics twice a day covering everything from confirmed COVID-19 cases to the number of available hospital beds but can’t report the total number of tests administered in the state. [The Oklahoman]

Later to lock down, rural areas now testing and trying to remain coronavirus free: Oklahoma’s rural areas joined the ranks of shut-ins later than urban areas, but health officials say coronavirus testing is now underway and residents are cautious as anyone. [Tulsa World]

COVID-19 expected to have long-term mental health impact: An Oklahoma nonpartisan group of mental health experts said COVID-19 will continue to kill with lingering effects months after the virus finishes running its course in the state. According to a Healthy Minds Policy Initiative report released Wednesday, an estimated 18,400 Oklahomans might attempt suicide in the next year. More than 13,000 also could develop substance use disorders. [CNHI / The Express Star]

State reports 5 residents of long-term care centers have died from COVID-19: Five of the 34 Oklahomans who have died from the COVID-19 disease resided in long-term care or nursing home facilities, the Oklahoma State Department of Health reported Thursday. [Oklahoma Watch]

Oklahoma drug court judges are afraid saving people from COVID-19 might mean losing some to addiction: The face to face interactions that make drug courts strong are opportunities to spread coronavirus. Judge Christopher Kelly says that’s why the Oklahoma Supreme Court ordered programs like drug court to step back. [StateImpact Oklahoma]

OU researchers working ‘fast and furious’ toward producing COVID-19 vaccine, scientist says: Only two weeks after joining the global effort, Oklahoma researchers have made significant progress toward developing a vaccine for the coronavirus, an OU scientist said Thursday. [Tulsa World]

State Government News

‘Maintain social distancing’: House outlines Capitol COVID-19 protocols: When the Oklahoma Legislature returns Monday to address state financial issues and confirm Gov. Kevin Stitt’s “health emergency” declaration, House members and staff will be screened for fevers, and access to the building will be restricted to “elected officials, essential Capitol staff, the press, state officials invited for critical meetings and construction personnel” working on the building. [NonDoc]

Governor says National Guard not being deployed for enforcement: National Guard members are not being deployed to enforce conditions of the state’s medical emergency, Gov. Kevin Stitt said Thursday during a late-afternoon press conference. [Tulsa World]

State driver’s license offices to close: The Oklahoma Department of Public Safety is temporarily closing its 33 driver’s license offices to further protect the public and its own employees. The change goes into effect Friday until further notice. [The Oklahoman]

Tulsa World editorial: State questions worth revisiting after the pandemic passes: Gov. Kevin Stitt’s March 15 emergency declaration limiting activities in response to the COVID-19 epidemic prompted Oklahoma Secretary of State Michael Rogers to put a hold on signature-gathering efforts for pending petitions. It was the right decision in the interest of public health, but shouldn’t end debate on the issues involved. [Tulsa World Editorial Board]

Federal Government News

In letter to Trump, Gov. Stitt urges sanctions against Russia and Saudia Arabia for oil dumping: Gov. Kevin Stitt this week sent a letter to President Donald Trump, urging him to assist Oklahoma’s economy by introducing “tariffs, sanctions, restrictions … or any other action you deem helpful” against Saudi Arabia and Russia. [The Frontier]

Oklahoma congressman calling on Trump administration to help rural hospitals: An Oklahoma congressman is calling on the Trump administration to provide immediate assistance to rural hospitals during the coronavirus pandemic. Congressman Frank Lucas joined several other lawmakers to call on Health and Human Services Secretary Azar to use the funding included in the CARES Act to sustain rural health providers. [KFOR]

Economy & Business News

As Governor’s order for non-essential business closures spreads statewide, thousands request exemptions or clarification: As COVID-19 continues to spread across the state, the Oklahoma Department of Commerce has been inundated by thousands of requests by businesses seeking exemptions from or clarification of an executive order by Gov. Kevin Stitt that all non-essential businesses be temporarily closed to stop the spread of the disease. [The Frontier]

OKC restaurants pin survival hopes on federal program: Congress passed a $2 trillion stimulus bill last month. Much of the effort is aimed at keeping corporate behemoths like Delta Airlines and Marriott in business, but it also includes provisions for people who own small businesses such as restaurants. A $349 billion lending program dubbed the “Paycheck Protection Program” is available to small businesses that have fewer than 500 employees on site. [NonDoc]

‘A lot of questions’ among SW 29, other Hispanic businesses and residents: In Hispanic communities in south Oklahoma City, across Oklahoma and throughout the United States, there is more overall concern about the threat the coronavirus poses to public health, personal finances and day-to-day life. [The Oklahoman]

Education News

Stitt will order schools to pay all support staff despite loss of hours: Gov. Kevin Stitt is expected to order all public schools to continue paying support staff who have lost the ability to work due to the statewide closure of school buildings. [The Frontier] OK Policy: School support personnel play vital role, should receive pay during closure

At least 167,000 students lack home internet access as state ramps up distance learning plan: With schools shuttered due to COVID-19, many Oklahoma school districts are pivoting to the internet for instruction. More than 80 percent of the 546 districts that filled out the survey say they have access to online learning platforms that students can use at home. [StateImpact Oklahoman] OK Policy: Oklahoma needs to account for all students as schools move to distance learning

Hofmeister, Gist say focus of ‘distance learning’ will be seeing seniors through to graduation, keeping younger students engaged: Instruction is set to resume for Oklahoma’s public school students on Monday, but state and local leaders say that won’t resemble traditional school in any way — and that’s OK. [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma Local News

  • OKC mayor extends emergency through April 30 [The Oklahoman]
  • Stay off swings, slides, OKC says [The Oklahoman]
  • Fired nurse sues Oklahoma City hospital for wrongful termination, claiming he was ordered not to wear mask [The Oklahoman]
  • Tulsa Police receiving more calls amid complaints of stay-at-home order violations, but encourage online reporting for safety [Tulsa World]
  • Expo Square preparing to assist in possible large-scale response to COVID-19 [Tulsa World]
  • 8 cases, 0 deaths: Rogers County COVID-19 confirmed cases climb [Claremore Daily Progess]
  • 121 official COVID-19 cases in Cleveland County as state expands testing capabilities [Norman Transcript]
  • Death in Stephens County confirmed [Stillwater News-Press]
  • Lawton school board may meet virtually [Lawton Constitution]
  • Hartshorne councilors vote to enforce curfew [McAlester News-Capital]
  • OSDH: Pittsburg County Health Department one of 14 drive-thru COVID-19 testing sites [McAlester News-Capital]
  • City of Duncan makes move to enforce executive orders, declarations of emergency [Duncan Banner]
  • COVID-19: Pontotoc County case count holds at 5, testing limits lifted [Ada News]
  • 4 additional airmen test positive for coronavirus at Tinker AFB [KTUL]

Quote of the Day

“To call this unprecedented doesn’t begin to explain the enormity of the impact COVID-19 related job losses are having on our state and our economy.”

-Robin Roberson, Executive Director of the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission [The Journal Record]

Number of the Day


Number of working-age adults (18-64) in Oklahoma at risk of serious illness if infected with COVID-19

[Source: Kaiser Family Foundation]

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Social Security benefits narrow the wealth gap. But it’s not enough to keep low-wage earners out of poverty in retirement: Low-wage workers — those with the lowest 20% of earnings — have no retirement savings at all. And high-wage workers — those with the top 20% of earnings — have two and a half times their earnings. But once Social Security benefits are taken into account, the difference between low-wage and high-wage workers shrinks from two-and-a-half-times earnings to about half a year’s earnings. But that is not enough to keep them out of poverty in retirement, the research found. [CNBC]

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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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