In The Know: Mask requirement brings physical threats; some businesses begin reopening; lawmakers, Gov. remain at odds on budget

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.

Note: During the pandemic, OK Policy will be publishing In The Know on Saturdays and Sundays in order to keep our subscribers up to date on the latest information going on in the state and the nation.  

New from OK Policy

Medical parole is necessary to help protect Oklahoma prisons and hospitals from COVID-19: Oklahoma’s prisons are 107 percent overcapacity. This overcrowding combined with a prison system filled with immune compromised and aging inmates only heightens the risk from COVID-19. The Oklahoma Department of Corrections could significantly reduce the risk our hospitals face by creating a list of non-violent, medically vulnerable inmates who can be considered for medical parole by the state’s Pardon and Parole Board. [Damion Shade / OK Policy]

Oklahoma News

‘Education will receive a cut,’ but Legislature wants input on Stitt’s federal money: Frustrated by a breakdown in negotiations with Gov. Kevin Stitt’s team and by what they believe is an inaccurately low revenue forecast from the state Board of Equalization, legislative appropriations leaders intend to pass a Fiscal Year 2021 budget next week cutting state agencies. [NonDoc] Federal relief aid and reopening Oklahoma businesses shuttered to slow down the spread of the coronavirus could potentially offset the steep economic impact of the pandemic, state lawmakers said. [AP News]

A tough decision’: Some Oklahoma businesses re-open: When Gov. Kevin Stitt announced last week that a three-phase plan to re-open Oklahoma businesses would largely begin today, uncertainty was felt by business owners across the state. Stitt’s plan allowed certain personal-care businesses to reopen on an appointment-only basis on April 24. But Friday restaurants, theaters, sporting venues, gyms, tattoo parlors and places of worship were allowed to open as long as they follow social-distancing and sanitation procedures. [NonDoc] OKC dining rooms open to small crowds Friday [The Oklahoman] Despite go-ahead from state, some Tulsa restaurants choose to prolong closures [Tulsa World] Opinion: From both practical and political standpoints, Stitt boxed in the mayors of Oklahoma’s largest cities. [Opinion / OKC Free Press]

City of Stillwater drops mask requirement after businesses threatened: An emergency declaration that took effect at midnight Friday has been amended after businesses reported their employees were being threatened with physical harm by members of the public who didn’t want to wear face coverings. Stillwater Mayor Will Joyce released the amended emergency proclamation just 16 hours after it was enacted, in response to concerns voiced by residents and the proprietors of businesses. [Stillwater News Press]

Coronavirus in Oklahoma: 3,748 confirmed cases, 230 deaths: The Oklahoma State Department of Health reported an additional eight deaths on Friday — one of which occurred in the past 24 hours. [The Oklahoman] Visit for the latest COVID-19 numbers in Oklahoma.

State Government News

Audit questions more than $22 million in expenditures by Oklahoma DHS: The Oklahoma Department of Human Services lacks proper documentation to support more than $22.4 million in federal expenditures made under a program designed to assist low-income families, according to a state audit released Friday. [The Oklahoman]

Stitt seeks shift away from ‘one size fits all’ gaming compacts: New state gaming compacts with two tribal nations highlight the two ways Gov. Kevin Stitt would like to change future compacts – that gambling expands through new casinos and new forms, such as sports betting, and that fees paid to the state be based on geography, rather than a flat statewide rate. [The Frontier]

Oklahoma AG Mike Hunter refiles lawsuits against 3 opioid distribution companies: Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter refiled separate state lawsuits against three opioid distribution companies Friday, accusing them of fueling the state’s deadly opioid crisis by oversupplying the state with the highly addictive painkillers. [The Oklahoman]

Economic Opportunity

Low-wage workers face Catch-22 during reopening: Some low-wage workers are facing a Catch-22 as Oklahoma begins the process of reopening its economy during the COVID-19 pandemic. Observers say the stimulus incentive could — in the short-term, at least — deter some workers from returning to the workforce. It also could trigger a heated debate in the Legislature next session about whether it’s time to increase the minimum wage, which has remained stagnant for about a decade. [CNHI] The pandemic’s toll has been borne unevenly across gender, racial and socioeconomic lines, according to an Associated Press analysis of census data in the country’s 100 largest cities. They are mostly women, people of color and more likely to be immigrants. [AP News] Safety inspectors reviewing scores of employee hospitalizations, deaths. [USA Today]

Here’s how unemployed and furloughed workers can apply for federal benefits: The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission on Friday released updated guidance on how traditional and non-traditional workers out of work due to the COVID-19 pandemic can be approved for unemployment funds plus $600 per week. However, non-traditional workers must first be rejected for traditional insurance before they can qualify for new federal programs that allow them to receive those benefits, according to the OESC. [Tulsa World] OESC offers step-by-step guide to file for pandemic unemployment assistance. [CNHI] Editorial: The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission has done an impressive job in recent weeks of dealing with an overwhelming number of jobless claims in the state. [Tulsa World Editorial]

If you cannot pay rent or a mortgage, develop a plan now: The courts will be back in session May 15 and when they are the day of financial reckoning for some renters and mortgage holders will arrive. [OKC Free Press] OK Policy: Policymakers must do more to prevent evictions and foreclosures during and after the COVID-19 crisis. Our Open Justice Oklahoma program created a real-time evictions and foreclosures court tracker, which shows there have been 1,395 evictions and 159 foreclosures filed since March 15 when the state declared a state of emergency due to the pandemic. Groups in Oklahoma are calling the state to issue or expand statewide moratoria against evictions and utility shut-offs and commit to preventing mass evictions. 

‘There just aren’t enough vouchers’: COVID-19 stresses Oklahoma’s already threadbare affordable housing system: As the pandemic unfolded, housing authorities and nonprofits with affordable housing programs temporarily suspended some services. Now, those invested in helping people secure homes fear that the economic fallout from COVID-19 could lead to a crescendo of evictions and a heightened need for affordable housing. This need will fall during a time when federally funded programs offering rental assistance already have waitlists in the thousands. [Big If True]

Risha Grant Op-Ed: Are we really in this together?: The inequity across America is staggering. This is all due to things like living conditions that result from institutional racism from housing segregation; work circumstances, in that people of color work in essential industries; and of course, underlying health conditions. These factors came together to create a perfect storm for a pandemic. [Op-Ed / Tulsa World]

Opinion: Stitt administration deaf to concerns of Oklahoma workers: Oklahoma businesses must take heroic measures to protect employees who are being called back to work, both in terms of their health and continued employment. But as he opens a second wave of service sector businesses, Gov. Kevin Stitt’s administration is ready to crack down on workers who stay home out of concern for their health and safety. [Opinion / OKC Free Press]

Economy & Business News

U.S. Small Business Administration discusses the Paycheck Protection Program (Audio): An official with the U.S. Small Business Administration, which administers the program, spoke with KWGS about the program’s successes and criticisms, and encouraged any Oklahoma small business owners who haven’t yet applied for assistance to do so as soon as possible before funding runs out. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Counseling and Recovery Services of Oklahoma implementing new job program: Counseling and Recovery Services of Oklahoma is offering a new job program funded by the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services to help clients get training and search for a job. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Bounce Back funding available to Oklahoma businesses: About 350 Oklahoma companies that showed interest in a state program launched recently to help businesses grow and evolve forced some tough decisions on Gov. Kevin Stitt, along with one much easier one. [Journal Record]

Stitt says he was first person told about Jazz player testing positive for COVID-19: On March 11, Gov. Kevin Stitt was the first person in the Chesapeake Energy Arena to know a member of the Utah Jazz had tested positive for COVID-19. Stitt and state health officials then set into motion a series of events that brought to a screeching halt most sporting events for the foreseeable future. [The Oklahoman]

Education News

OSU plans to resume in-person classes this fall: Oklahoma State University plans to resume in-person classes during the upcoming fall semester. The University of Oklahoma announced last week that in-person classes would resume this fall. [The Oklahoman] Starting June 1, OSU will begin a phased reopening of its campuses to visitors and employees, with staggered department schedules for in-office work. [Tulsa World

Health News

Steven Buck and Mary Brinkley Op-Ed: COVID-19 is the greatest challenge ever faced by long-term care: This coronavirus affects us all, but the people facing the greatest risk of serious illness or death are vulnerable seniors. [Op-Ed / Tulsa World]

County health departments loosen requirements for COVID-19 testing: Symptoms of COVID-19 are no longer a requirement for testing at sites across the state. [CNHI]

General News

Coronavirus pandemic continues to take a toll on Oklahoma festivals and events: Even as the state begins reopening under Gov. Kevin Stitt’s Open Up & Recover Safely Plan, marquee events continue falling off the calendar as organizers cancel, postpone or move them online. [The Oklahoman]

Air National Guard wraps up two days of flyovers for health care workers: The 138th Fighter Wing flies missions all the time, to go somewhere, do something and come back to base. But for two days this week, the wing’s mission was be seen, lift spirits and definitely be heard. [Tulsa World]

Online platforms provide solutions for attending remote meetings: Although the COVID-19 pandemic has forced people to socially distance themselves from others, business among governing bodies and boards must continue, so members have turned to online platforms for meetings. [Tahlequah Daily Press]


  • Capitol Insider: Getting back to business: With the state of Oklahoma “opening up,” Governor Kevin Stitt, the Oklahoma Supreme Court and legislators address issues caused by the coronavirus pandemic as lawmakers prepare to return to the Capitol for the final month of the session. [KGOU]
  • The Oklahoman Newsroom Podcast: The state ramps up testing and contact tracing, local businesses are preparing to open their doors,  and the Thunder considers its return to practice. [The Oklahoman]
  • The Frontier: The vulnerability of children during COVID-19: Host Ben Felder and Joe Dorman of the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA) and Sherry Fair of Prevent Child Abuse Oklahoma talk about the impact the coronavirus pandemic and related school and business closings are having on Oklahoma children. [The Frontier]

Oklahoma Local News

  • OKC mayor urges caution as emergency orders are relaxed [The Oklahoman] [Video of press conference]
  • Oklahoma County not facing dire budget problems yet [The Oklahoman]
  • OKC’s Penn Square Mall, others, see the light of a new day [The Oklahoman]
  • Metro businesses slow to return to the office despite governor’s May 1 kickstart date [The Oklahoman]
  • Regulars at OKC golf courses links eager to return [The Oklahoman]
  • ‘This was Christmas for me’: Tulsa golf courses reopen for business [Tulsa World]
  • Some Norman businesses reopen to customers [The Oklahoman]
  • City of Owasso ordered to turn over investigative report kept from public [Tulsa World]
  • Pandemic hasn’t slowed city’s killings: April 2020 was deadliest Tulsa has seen in at least three decades [Tulsa World]
  • Tulsa Health Department launches mosquito surveillance season, reports COVID-19 not carried by insects [Tulsa World]
  • DPS opening services to the public again since pandemic-induced closure [Tulsa World]
  • Most Tulsa churches likely to remain closed this Sunday as they work to find ‘new normal’ for worship [Tulsa World]
  • Guthrie residents push back on stay-at-home orders [CNHI]
  • State, local data supports reopening in Norman [Norman Transcript]

Quote of the Day

“In the short time beginning on May 1, 2020, that face coverings have been required for entry into stores/restaurants, store employees have been threatened with physical violence and showered with verbal abuse. In addition, there has been one threat of violence using a firearm. This has occurred in three short hours and in the face of clear medical evidence that face coverings helps contain the spread of COVID-19.”

-Stillwater City Manager Norman McNickle talking about resident reactions to health and safety measures that called for residents to wear face masks in public [Stillwater News Press]

Number of the Day


Percentage of Oklahoma’s juvenile detention beds that were filled as of April 1, 2020. This is a reduction from 77 percent on March 18, 2020, as state officials implemented changes to protect juvenile detainees from the threat of COVID-19. [Source: Oklahoma Office of Juvenile Affairs

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

More essential than ever, low-wage workers demand more: In this lockdown, low-wage workers have been publicly declared “essential” — up there with doctors and nurses. But workers like Solis are discovering the value of that essential work doesn’t seem to add up to much. They run cash registers, prepare food in fast food joints, haul goods at supermarkets, process packages at warehouses and deliver necessities to people’s homes. Some are falling sick and even dying even though their work was never supposed to be about life and death. [NPR]

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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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