In The Know: Masks in schools recommended statewide, not mandated | Unemployment numbers released | Medical official: ‘End of the runway’ for hospital capacity

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 school board votes to make masks recommended, not mandated in schools: As school leaders are developing plans for back-to-school with these difficult public health considerations in mind, they are looking for guidance. The state Department of Education is providing a set of protocols to inform those decisions. But they will be recommendations, not mandates, after a narrow vote by the state Board of Education on Thursday. [Oklahoma Watch] The members voted 4-3 to reject a thorough plan for reopening – developed by State Department of Education and Health staff – and turn it into simply a recommendation. [StateImpact Oklahoma] The majority of board members also decided individual districts should determine when it is safe to hold in-person classes, allow contact sports, hold public gatherings on school grounds and whether to allow visitors on campus. [CNHI] Board member Estella Hernandez, of Oklahoma City, opposed the adoption of statewide mandates, saying it violated assurances about protecting local control she made during the process of her appointment to the state Board of Education by Gov. Stitt. [Tulsa World]

  • OSSAA to move forward as scheduled [CNHI]
  • Football, other high school sports seasons remain on schedule, but situation is `so fluid’ [Tulsa World]
  • Oklahoma high school fall sports planned to start on time [AP News]
  • Stillwater Board of Education pushes start date amid uncertainty [CNHI]

Continuing unemployment claims remain near 120,000, national unemployment rate estimated at 11.1%: Nearly 120,000 Oklahomans received unemployment assistance during the second week of July as businesses continue to contend with pandemic-caused disruption. Oklahoma’s system continues to pick up new claims as well, though at a much slower rate than what previously was seen following the initial outbreak of COVID-19. [The Oklahoman] The decrease in new claims could shrink, though, next week when officials revise figures released this week. For instance, the initial claims figure released last week was increased by more than 1,000 when those figures were revised this week. Since mid-March, more than 815,000 workers have filed first-time claims in Oklahoma. [Tulsa World]

  • More than 3,000 receive help at OESC claims events in Tulsa [Journal Record]

Daylong wait for COVID-19 patient to get hospital bed in Tulsa signals ‘end of the runway,’ medical official says: A local patient infected with COVID-19 and in need of a hospital bed was unable to find one in the Tulsa metro all day Wednesday, according to the president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association. Dr. George Monks posted on social media Thursday morning that the patient was in an emergency room at 8:30 a.m. but was unable to be placed in a hospital bed until after 5:30 p.m., when “the one and only bed in the entire Tulsa metro area became available.” [Tulsa World]

  • COVID-19: 737 new cases reported with 3 more deaths in Oklahoma [Tulsa World]
  • Oklahoma’s new COVID-19 cases in July total more than past four months combined [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • Stricter COVID-19 measures for Tulsa remain ‘very much on the table’ as COVID-19 infects 1% of Tulsa County population [Tulsa World]
  • Tulsa County outbreak ‘continuing to surge’ as officials hope mask mandate can slow or reverse trend [Public Radio Tulsa]

State Government News

Stitt’s chief of staff announces resignation: Gov. Kevin Stitt’s chief of staff announced Thursday he is stepping down from his role, effective July 31. Michael Junk cited personal reasons for his impending resignation. Junk has three young children and commutes to Oklahoma City several days a week from his home in Tulsa. [The Oklahoman] Junk would not disclose his new job, but he said he is not going to work for another elected official and is looking forward to spending time with his kids. Deputy Chief of Staff Zachary Lee will take over as interim upon Junk’s departure. The search for a permanent replacement is ongoing, according to Stitt’s office. [Tulsa World]

Capitol leak causes estimated $1.2 million in damage: A water leak at the Capitol has caused an estimated $1.2 million in damage for offices, the Oklahoma Supreme Court courtroom on the second floor and the House lounge on the fourth floor. The Capitol is currently undergoing a $245 million renovation and restoration project that started in 2015.  Officials said the contractor’s insurance is expected to pay the costs for the repairs. [Tulsa World]

Federal Government News

Cole: Congress should pass another major pandemic aid package: U.S. Rep. Tom Cole said Thursday that Congress should pass “another major piece of legislation” to address pandemic-related needs and predicted that lawmakers would approve more direct payments to Americans and a federal unemployment benefit to supplement state assistance. [The Oklahoman]

Does the $600 unemployment bonus discourage work?: Unemployed Americans will lose a vital economic lifeline within days if Congress fails to pass a new coronavirus relief package soon. “Removing this lifeline would only drive the economy into a deeper recession,” warns Michael Klein, professor of international economic affairs at The Fletcher School at Tufts University and former chief economist in the Office of International Affairs of the Department of the Treasury. [USA Today]

Senate clears defense bill: Inhofe predicts removal of base renaming provision: The Senate approved a $740 billion defense bill on Thursday that includes a 3% pay raise for U.S. service members and supports the missions at the five major military installations in Oklahoma. [The Oklahoman]

Economic Opportunity

Tulsa could face ‘unbelievable’ eviction crisis as COVID-19’s impact continues, officials say: Without swift action to prevent it, Tulsa will face an unprecedented eviction crisis this fall as COVID-19’s economic impact worsens, officials told the Tulsa World in this week’s “Let’s Talk” webcast. [Tulsa World] OK Policy and its Open Justice Oklahoma program have been tracking evictions in Oklahoma and noted that reopening Oklahoma’s courts must be done thoughtfully to avoid a public health disaster.

Criminal Justice News

Tulsa County DA declines charges in May 31 collision on Interstate 244 during protest: The Tulsa County District Attorney’s Office has declined to prosecute the motorist who drove through a crowd of protesters on Interstate 244 in May. But District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler on Thursday encouraged the Oklahoma Highway Patrol to work toward identifying people who were in the path of the vehicle for possible prosecution. [Tulsa World]

Economy & Business News

Tulsa leaders: Oklahoma Corporation Commission regional office understaffed: The state lieutenant governor, the mayor of Tulsa and 20 oil and gas organizations sent a letter to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, asserting that the commission’s Tulsa office is understaffed and that the situation results in delays that harm the industry. [Journal Record]

Health News

Oklahoma federal prosecutor says Indian Health Service shortcomings leave children vulnerable: Red tape, a lack of leadership and problems attracting quality medical professionals have made Native American children vulnerable to sexual and physical abuse in the Indian Health System, a U.S. attorney from Oklahoma said Thursday at the White House. [The Oklahoman]

General News

Kiowa Tribe chairman faces impeachment over use of federal relief funds: The Kiowa Tribe chairman is facing impeachment over his handling of COVID-19 relief funds by the tribe’s seven member legislative branch. The alleged mishandling of funds, distributed by the federal government through the COVID-19 CARES Act, is one of five “constitutional violations” Chairman Matthew Komalty will be facing in a July 30 public hearing. [NonDoc]

Norman city council member named in recall effort resigns: Sereta Wilson, one of four Norman City Council members targeted in a recall effort, has resigned her position, effective Aug. 11, she told The Oklahoman on Thursday night. Wilson, who represents Ward 5, is moving out of the district. Wilson and her husband decided to sell their house due to financial impacts from the pandemic. [The Oklahoman]

Editorial: Search for race massacre unmarked graves must continue: The search for unmarked graves from the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre is a meaningful and worthwhile endeavor, even if the first excavation ended without finding any human remains. The exploration in the Sexton area at Oaklawn Cemetery ended Wednesday but shouldn’t end the investigation, and it won’t. [Editorial / Tulsa World]

Oklahoma Local News

  • Forum on race will be hosted Friday night in OKC [The Oklahoman]
  • Oologah-Talala Schools answers to state board on misconduct allegations [Claremore Progress]
  • Oologah-Talala school officials appear before state board for 1st report since reprimand [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • Officials hold groundbreaking for first tenant of Tulsa Vision tax-supported north Tulsa business park [Public Radio Tulsa
  • Tahlequah area task force continues to mull mask mandate [Tahlequah Daily Press]
  • Governor appoints member to EOSC Board of Regents [CNHI]

Quote of the Day

“They were counting on the state to protect their students… We will inevitably find ourselves where so many may be infected or quarantined that we end up closing prematurely.”

-State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister, discussing potential repercussions without stronger statewide efforts to slow COVID-19’s spread. The board on Thursday rejected a statewide mask mandate, instead leaving it as a recommendation for local schools. [StateImpact Oklahoma]

Number of the Day


Percentage of Oklahoma children whose parents lack secure employment. 

[Source: KIDS COUNT]

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Three Principles for Reopening Schools Safely During the COVID-19 Pandemic: For months, parents and educators have worried about whether or not schools will be able to reopen safely this fall amid the COVID-19 pandemic. State and local officials have struggled to balance competing priorities and answer complicated logistical, educational, and public health questions. For the safety of students, families, and educators, science must drive these decisions. [Center for American Progress]

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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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