In The Know: ‘Just assume that they’re infected’ | State revenue above projections | Schools struggling to stay open

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

‘Just assume that they’re infected’: Hospital leaders’ worries grow as about 1 in 21 Oklahomans have COVID-19: Oklahoma’s beleaguered health care workers are expecting a rough two to four weeks as COVID-19 cases smash records, hospital admissions rise — albeit more slowly than cases — and more staff than ever are out in quarantine or isolation. However, case counts alone are woefully short of capturing the full breadth of community spread, with at-home testing and many people who have no or minor symptoms not seeking a test. [Tulsa World

  • Oklahoma County authorizes remote work, alternate payment method for COVID rapid tests [The Oklahoman
  • Where to find a COVID test around Tulsa [Tulsa World
  • Hospitals encourage public to avoid ER for COVID-19 testing [Enid News & Eagle]
  • Obesity undeniable as factor in many COVID-19 deaths [The Journal Record]

Stitt’s education secretary comes down on schools halting in-person instruction amid soaring COVID absences: Some educators took issue on Tuesday with comments Gov. Kevin Stitt’s education secretary, Ryan Walters, made about in-class cancellations as COVID cases continue to rise. Shutting down schools should not be the first reaction but should be a last resort, Walters wrote on Twitter. [Tulsa World] Oklahoma Education Secretary Ryan Walters said closures shouldn’t be a district’s first reaction and that they should “fulfill their obligation” to students by offering in-person learning. His comments received instant backlash from those who say schools have no resources and staff left to spare. [The Oklahoman

  • Oklahoma schools struggling to stay open amid omicron COVID wave [The Oklahoman
  • ‘Our students are paying the ultimate price’: State Superintendent weighs in on closings [KOKH
  • Bixby, Glenpool, Coweta moving to distance learning [Tulsa World]
  • Lawton area school districts adjusts schedules [The Lawton Constitution]

State general revenue nearly 20% above projections half-way through fiscal year: A budget surplus for Oklahoma state government appears increasingly likely after December’s general revenue report showed the state’s primary operating fund at 19.4% above projections at the fiscal year’s half-way point. Total general revenue for the first six months of FY 2022 was $3.8 billion, or $609.6 million above the budgeted amount. [Tulsa World]

State Government News

Oklahoma AG John O’Connor draws scrutiny after reportedly advocating for a “God-based nation”: Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor’s reported endorsement of a national legal system based on theology is an affront to the Bill of Rights and the separation of church and state, according to a secular advocacy group. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Oklahoma lawmaker calls for legalization of sports betting: Oklahoma should alter its gaming compacts with Native American tribes to allow for legalized betting on sports, a Republican state lawmaker from Ponca City said Monday. [The Journal Record] Matthew Morgan, chairman of Oklahoman Indian Gaming Association, said he’s not had time to poll members yet, but said Luttrell’s bill is a conversation-starter. [CNHI via The Ada News]

Oklahoma can’t put time limits on trains blocking streets, federal appeals court says: Oklahoma’s 10-minute limit on trains blocking city streets violates the federal government’s authority to regulate rail carriers and tracks, a federal appeals court ruled Tuesday. [The Oklahoman]

Federal Government News

Biden requires insurance companies to cover cost of at home COVID tests: The Biden Administration announced Monday that private insurance companies must cover the cost of COVID-19 testing for their customers. The Biden Administration announced Monday that private insurance companies must cover the cost of COVID-19 testing for their customers. [The Black Wall Street Times

Oklahoma legislator asks judge for compassion for Trump supporter charged in Capitol riot: State Rep. Kevin Wallace wrote a letter of support for a Chandler man who illegally demonstrated inside the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. Tanner Bryce Sells, 26, is scheduled to be sentenced Wednesday by videoconference in federal court in Washington, D.C. [The Oklahoman]

Tribal Nations News

State AG John O’Connor speaks on McGirt court decision, contact with some tribal leaders: Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor said Tuesday he’s made preliminary contact with several of eastern Oklahoma’s tribal chief executives, but whether that represents the first sign of a thaw in the icy relations between the administration and the state’s tribal nations remains unclear. [Tulsa World]

Criminal Justice News

Oklahoma execution doctor paid $15,000 each time death penalty carried out: Oklahoma pays a doctor $15,000 per execution for duties that include performing a consciousness check and verifying death during the lethal injection process. A top corrections official testified about the payments Monday during a hearing in Oklahoma City federal court. [The Oklahoman]

While active cases remain low, Omicron threat looms in Oklahoma prisons: The highly contagious Omicron variant has arrived in Oklahoma, causing COVID-19 case numbers to surge and renewing concerns that hospitals will become overwhelmed. While active cases in Oklahoma’s prison system remain low, public health experts warn that the highly transmissible Omicron variant has the ability to spread quickly through densely populated correctional facilities. [Oklahoma Watch

‘They just don’t care about us in here,’ Mother of Oklahoma County Jail inmate claims son is freezing inside his cell; jail says heat is working fine: The mother of an Oklahoma County Jail inmate contacted KFOR over the weekend saying her son is freezing inside his cell, claiming there is no heat and he’s been denied an extra blanket. [KFOR

Man dead after being found unresponsive in Tulsa County jail cell: A person being held in the Tulsa County jail died this week after being found unresponsive in his cell. Arrested Christmas Eve on a misdemeanor charge, Dean Courtney Stith, 55, was found wedged between a wall and his bed about 4 a.m. Monday, according to an incident report provided by the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office. [Tulsa World]

Economic Opportunity

Editorial: Tulsa evictions moving in right direction: down: Tulsa appears to be getting a handle on evictions, with the trend going down and more than 6,700 families receiving help in the past year. With the city ranking No. 11 in the nation for its eviction rate just two years ago, this is welcomed news. But the city was helped with a moratorium on evictions and federal funding to stem the effects of the pandemic. Efforts that have assisted families and landlords need to find staying power. [Tulsa World]

Economy & Business News

Nation’s largest wind energy project nears completion in western Oklahoma: The nation’s largest wind energy project located in western Oklahoma is nearing completion. The 999-Megawatt Traverse Wind Energy Center is expected to commence operation sometime in April. Sustainable energy company Invenergy secured financing for the project in March of last year – now it’s getting ready to flip the switch. [KGOU]

Oil production appears poised to rise this year: As of Jan. 7, Oklahoma’s rig count was up to 49 – same as the previous week, but considerably more than the 18 rigs in operation at this time last year. Economists expect production in the Sooner State to continue rising this year. [The Journal Record]

Education News

Epic Charter Schools countersues co-founders Ben Harris and David Chaney for $9.3 million: Epic Charter Schools has countersued its former management company for $9.3 million, seeking to recoup millions lost to penalties and accusing its co-founders of a “scheme to enrich themselves.” Epic’s co-founders, Ben Harris and David Chaney, own the management company that operated and profited from the virtual school system for a decade. Epic severed ties in May with the company, called Epic Youth Services. [The Oklahoman

  • Epic among 3 virtual charters losing $58.9 million after ‘significant decline’ in students [Tulsa World]

General News

On his 101st birthday, survivor of the Tulsa Race Massacre waits for justice: The youngest of a trio of the last known living survivors of one of the nation’s most horrific attacks against Black people wants more than cake for his 101st birthday. Hughes Van Ellis wants justice. “The Judge needs to move our case forward. My Birthday Cake is sweet but Justice would be sweeter,” Van Ellis said in a statement shared by Public Radio Tulsa’s Chris Polansky. [The Black Wall Street Times

Local News

  • Salvaged I-40 Crosstown Expressway beams are helping build county crossings across Oklahoma [The Oklahoman]

Quote of the Day

“This is not a response born out of fear. It has absolutely nothing to do with fear but everything to do with not having an adequate number of staff available to safely open schools. We had administrators in classrooms yesterday, and it was not sustainable considering our skyrocketing COVID numbers.”

—Union Superintendent Kirt Hartzler speaking about efforts to keep schools open amid the latest COVID surge [Tulsa World]

Number of the Day

1 in 21

Approximate number of Oklahomans who are actively infected with COVID-19. This rate is higher than the official state report of approximately 1 in 62, which does not capture at-home tests and asymptomatic individuals who do not seek a test.

[Source: Tulsa World]

Policy Note

Smaller Cities, Poorer Regions Could Be Infrastructure Losers: Over a third of the new money for transit and other infrastructure needs will be awarded in the form of competitive grants. That means cities with the capacity to draft eye-catching proposals will get the most attention. [Governing]

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kristin Wells joined OK Policy in October 2021 as the Communications and Operations Fellow. She previously worked as a digital content producer for News On 6. A native Kansas Citian, Kristin graduated with a B.A. in Media Studies and a B.A. in Spanish from the University of Tulsa in 2020. While there, she was accepted into the Global Scholars program, spurring her interests in policy, social movements, global identities, and the importance of education and advocacy. She hopes to use her skills to continue to learn and create a more equitable future for Oklahomans. An avid sports fan, Kristin lives in Tulsa with her rescue dog and is passionate about college basketball, documentaries, and coffee.

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