In The Know: Nearly 100 connected to state prison test positive for virus | Oklahoma not ready for schools to reopen

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.

New from OK Policy

Policy Matters: Oklahoma is not ready: To be blunt, Oklahoma is not ready for public schools to open for in-person classes this fall. Schools nationwide are being pressured by politicians and pundits to move forward with in-person reopening plans that lack protections for children and school employees, which also endangers families throughout the state. [Ahniwake Rose / Journal Record]

Oklahoma News

Oklahoma Corrections reports COVID-19 outbreak at Lexington Correctional Center: Ninety-six people in connection with the Lexington Correctional Center have tested positive for COVID-19, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections reported Wednesday. Damion Shade, a criminal justice policy analyst with OK Policy, said outbreaks are likely as Oklahoma begins the process of resuming criminal justice activities like normal. [The Oklahoman] Weekend prison visitations canceled statewide this weekend [Oklahoma Department of Corrections statement]

  • Oklahoma County Jail nurse tests positive for COVID-19 [OKC Free Press]
  • Researcher: COVID-19 infection rates 5 times higher in U.S. prisons: The research found prisoners have a five times higher risk of catching the virus than the overall U.S. population and are 30 percent more likely to die from the disease caused by the novel coronavirus. [StateImpact Oklahoma]

These hospitals pinned their hopes on private management companies. Now they’re deeper in debt: At least 13 hospitals in Oklahoma have closed or experienced added financial distress under the management of private companies. Some companies charged hefty management fees, promising to infuse millions of dollars that never materialized. [The Frontier]

COVID-19: 918 new cases, 13 more deaths in Oklahoma: The Oklahoma State Department of Health announced 918 new COVID-19 cases in the state, along with 13 more deaths, on Wednesday. The state’s death toll is at 474, with 28,065 infections confirmed so far. The 13 newly fatal cases span five counties, with two in Tulsa County. [Tulsa World]

  • See The Frontier’s interactive graphics on the virus in the state [The Frontier]
  • Track coronavirus cases and testing in your county and state [AP News via Tulsa World]
  • OU students create website with COVID-19 test site map, pandemic resources [Norman Transcript]

Health News

Dentists report booming business since reopening: Dentists and hygienists across Oklahoma say business has been booming in the months since they reopened their offices and resumed routine procedures. They said rising COVID-19 case numbers aren’t scaring away clients, though some have questioned whether it’s still safe to undergo routine cleanings and non-emergency procedures. [CNHI]

5 Things to Know: More on COVID-19 contact tracing and how it works: The Oklahoma Department of Health explains what contact tracing is and how it is used to to slow or stop the spread of COVID-19 and other infections diseases. [CNHI]

State Government News

Oklahoma seeks continued authority to oversee environmental programs in state’s Indian territories: Oklahoma is asking the EPA to grant it the authority to continue regulating environmental issues across areas of the state designated as Indian Territory before statehood. [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma, tribes seek to sort out ramifications following Supreme Court decision: The newly announced Oklahoma Commission on Cooperative Sovereignty is meant to advise the Governor on jurisdictional issues on criminal, civil and regulatory concerns. No tribal leaders were named to the commission in the official announcement. Meanwhile, Muscogee (Creek) Nation Principal Chief David Hill formed his own commission and informed Stitt in a phone call that he hopes the Nation’s commission can coordinate with the state. [KOSU]

Federal Government News

White House drops payroll tax cut as GOP unveils virus aid: The White House has dropped a bid to cut Social Security payroll taxes as Republicans unveil a $1 trillion COVID-19 rescue package on Thursday, ceding to opposition to the idea among top Senate allies. [AP News]

Criminal Justice News

Tulsa City Council digs into court fines as it restarts Equality Indicators work: Tulsa city councilors resumed work on policies that might close gaps identified in the city’s Equality Indicators reports with a deep dive into municipal court fines and fees. A rethinking of the entire fine structure is one possibility. Councilor Kara Joy McKee said set amounts are inherently inequitable. [Public Radio Tulsa]

New Tulsa Police records system will change reporting, add to data collection capabilities: The Tulsa Police Department is on track to phase out its more than 40-year-old records management system late next summer. TPD said it will allow them to collect more data to help recognize crime trends and could integrate with dozens of other area agencies’ systems to help with information sharing, but the upgrade will pose some challenges. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Police reform advocate decries ‘hypocrisy’ in Tulsa police chief’s refusal to seek public input on use-of-force policy reform: A Tulsa police reform advocate decried “hypocrisy” Wednesday in a statement criticizing the Tulsa police chief’s recent refusal to seek public input on use-of-force policy reform. In her statement, Tiffany Crutcher said that “there is no effective policing absent community involvement.” The police chief responded saying use-of-force policies should be based on law and industry standards, and he said the community will be involved in the department’s community policing work being done with an outside firm. [Tulsa World]

Authorities now considering whether charges are warranted against pickup driver who drove through protesters on highway: State and federal prosecutors are considering whether charges are warranted in the case of a man who earlier this year drove a pickup towing a horse trailer through Black Lives Matter demonstrators on Interstate 244 near downtown. [Tulsa World

  • Fact check: Evidence shows smoke bombs did not enter horse trailer at Oklahoma protest [Reuters]

Opinion: I’m a district attorney, and I support SQ 805: District attorneys are tasked with the weighty responsibility of protecting our communities. We want to keep our citizens safe and our society just. Naturally, there are those worried that any criminal justice reform will make that task harder — not easier. But SQ 805 doesn’t limit our ability to be just. It merely changes our default approach to crime. [Allen Grubb Opinion / NonDoc]

Economy & Business News

National: Virus sends jobless claims up for first time since March: The viral pandemic’s resurgence caused the number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits to rise last week for the first time in nearly four months, evidence of the deepening economic pain the outbreak is causing. The increase in weekly jobless claims to 1.4 million served to underscore the outsize role the unemployment insurance system is playing among the nation’s safety net programs — just when a $600 weekly federal aid payment for the jobless is set to expire at the end of this week. [AP News]

  • Stress rises for unemployed as extra $600 benefit nears end [AP News]
  • COVID-19 impacts ripple through every sector of the economy and the recession has been hard on clean energy. [High Country News]
  • Survey: Hiring decision-makers concerned about economy  [Journal Record]

Elon Musk chooses Austin for next Tesla plant: The cynics — some might call them the realists — said Tulsa never had a shot at landing Tesla’s CyberTruck Gigafactory. We’ll never know. But this much they got right: The electronic vehicle maker will build its latest production facility in Austin, Texas. [Tulsa World] Tulsa put up a good fight, but may have been used to win better terms from Texas. Oklahoma boasts about its low tax rates and cost of living, particularly low utility costs. Musk even visited the Tulsa site earlier this month. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Shutdown of marijuana processor sought for ‘flagrant, continuous and willful violations’ of regulations: Oklahoma’s governing body for medical marijuana asked a state judge to revoke a processor’s license and assess a $541,000 fine for alleged violations of regulations over pesticides and sales to unlicensed people. [Tulsa World]

Education News

Surge pushes Epic Charter Schools to highest enrollment in state: Epic Charter Schools has grown into the largest school system in Oklahoma amid pandemic demands and increasing interest. The virtual charter school counted 38,026 students on Wednesday and is adding 1,000 new students a day. This exceeds the previous No. 1, Oklahoma City Public Schools, which predicts 34,867 students this fall. If the current trend holds, administrators project a student body of 46,000 by Oct. 1. The coronavirus pandemic forced traditional districts to embrace virtual learning as school closures hindered face-to-face classes. Many families opted for Epic despite the digital push from other schools. [The Oklahoman]

Tulsa Public Schools officials: Staggered attendance best option for safe, in-person classes: Tulsa Public Schools officials are calling a staggered attendance model the best shot at safe, in-person classes this fall as the coronavirus pandemic continues. [Public Radio Tulsa]

State board delivers censure to Oologah-Talala school leaders for ‘shocking disregard’ for students amid teacher misconduct cases: The Oklahoma State Board of Education has issued its letter of censure of Oologah-Talala Public Schools’ superintendent and school board for “failing to take appropriate actions to protect students from potential harm.” [Tulsa World]

Editorial: Gov. Stitt shortchanging schools by bolstering private tuition with emergency pandemic aid: Gov. Kevin Stitt let down Oklahoma public education by using much of remaining discretionary federal emergency funds for private school scholarships that will benefit a small fraction of Oklahoma’s school-age students. [Editorial / Tulsa World]

General News

Tulsa Race Massacre mass graves search halted at current site: The search for burials from Tulsa’s 1921 Race Massacre was suspended Wednesday morning after researchers ruled out the current test excavation as a possible site. [Tulsa World] The researchers, the investigation’s Public Oversight Committee, City Hall, and descendants of race massacre survivors all said they remain confident and committed to continuing the search at other sites. [Public Radio Tulsa] The excavation that began July 13 turned up various artifacts including a shell casing that was determined to be unrelated to the massacre, temporary grave markers not believed to be related to the victims and a pair of shoes that are being examined by investigators as excavators dug three trenches up to 15 feet deep. [AP News]

Op-Ed: A recently passed Oklahoma State bill authorizes electronic monitoring of assisted living resident’s common areas: Unlike the unsuspecting victims featured in the popular television series “Candid Camera,” today we expect that we are captured on a camera whenever we leave our homes. What if, for the safety or security of our loved ones, we want those cameras in our homes? Effective Nov. 1, state law extends the authorization for electronic monitoring to common areas and resident rooms in assisted living centers and continuum of care facilities. [Op-Ed / Tulsa World]

Oklahoma Local News

Quote of the Day

“We are at the end of the runway.”

-George Monks, President of the Oklahoma State Medical Association, in a Thursday morning tweet describing a daylong search to locate “the one and only” available hospital bed in Tulsa for a COVID-19 patient [Source: @georgemonks11]

Number of the Day


Percentage of Oklahoma school superintendents and school board members concerned their district will face a COVID-related teacher shortage during the upcoming school year. Three out of four (75 percent) expected a shortage for support staff, while concern for securing substitutes rose to 91 percent. 

[Source: Oklahoma State School Boards Association

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Safely Reopening America’s Schools and Communities: Until a vaccine is developed for COVID-19, each community is going to need support in charting a path to safely and responsibly reopen school buildings and other institutions crucial to the well-being and economic vitality of our communities. The AFT’s detailed, science-based “Plan to Safely Reopen America’s Schools and Communities” features five core pillars based on the science as well as educator and healthcare expertise—not on politics or wishful thinking. [American Federation of Teachers]

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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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