In The Know: OKC hospitals: ‘Stretched beyond our limits’ | Some schools already pivoting to distance learning | 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. 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

Evictions as big business: Handful of companies responsible for vast majority of Oklahoma eviction filings: Oklahoma’s long-standing eviction crisis has been slowed by the infusion of millions of dollars in rental assistance during the last year and a half. While it’s heartening to see major investments in keeping people housed, the eviction process itself is broken, and we need to make it work better for both tenants and landlords. [Ryan Genztler / OK Policy]

Oklahoma News

‘Stretched beyond our limits’: Amid governor’s silence on COVID-19 surge, hospital leaders appeal for public’s help: As Gov. Kevin Stitt has been largely silent about Oklahoma’s continuing surge in COVID-19 cases, hospital leaders in Oklahoma City held a press conference Tuesday pleading with the public to get vaccinated and calling on state leaders to more forcefully promote strategies aimed at reducing the spread of a virus that continues to significantly challenge health care facilities. [The Frontier]

  • As hospitals struggle, 4 health systems beg Oklahomans to get COVID-19 vaccine and mask up [The Oklahoman] | [NonDoc]
  • Okla. Hospital Officials Paint Picture Of Health Care System On Brink Of Collapse Under COVID Surge [Public Radio Tulsa] | [KGOU]
  • ‘Slow-Rolling Mass Casualty Event’: Oklahoma Hospital Officials Sound Alarm As COVID Hospitalizations Approach Pandemic’s Peak [KGOU]
  • Oklahoma City medical officials say COVID-19 causing staffing, space issues at hospitals [Tulsa World]
  • ‘Heartbreaking, exhausting’ COVID-19 surge sparks rising desperation [The Journal Record]

COVID surge in Oklahoma schools prompts quick pivots to distance learning: With COVID-19 case numbers continuing to climb, back to school has meant a quick return to distance learning mode or quarantine for students and employees at a host of schools across Oklahoma. Oklahoma City Public Schools held its first day of school on Aug. 9. As of Tuesday, its seventh day of classes, the district is contending with 147 active cases of COVID among its student population and 42 active staff cases, according to media relations manager Crystal Raymond. In Rogers County, officials with Chelsea Public Schools announced Monday evening that their district was suspending in-person classes through Friday due to “a significant increase in the number of active COVID-19 positive students and staff in the last 24 hours.” Classes there began only four school days earlier on Aug. 11. [Tulsa World]

  • Hospitals say overrun by delta as virus shutters school [AP News]
  • Oklahoma health experts anticipate COVID-19 outbreaks in schools, possible closures [KOCO]
  • Oklahoma parents demand action after kids are exposed to COVID-19 just days into the school year [KFOR]
  • Four schools in Oklahoma shut down due to increase in COVID-19 cases [Fox25]
  • Edmond mom urges school mask mandate after daughter contracts COVID within the first week [Fox25]

After she lost her job, Oklahoma cut off her pandemic unemployment benefits early: Valerie Killman, a 50-year old mother of three, signed up for unemployment benefits in March after losing her teaching job at an Oklahoma virtual charter school. Killman’s 16-year-old daughter has been battling bone cancer for years, and has extensive scarring on her lungs from cancer treatments. She’s been looking for a job that would allow her to work from home and not risk infecting her daughter with COVID-19. The governor’s decision to end expanded extra federal unemployment benefits more than two months early has not helped Killman find a job and has only made things tougher for her family and thousands of other Oklahomans, she said. [The Frontier]

Health News

Suicide rates increase in Black communities despite nationwide decrease: While the entire nation has suffered and endured through a debilitating pandemic, not all groups have suffered equally. A report from Axios highlighted findings from a researcher from the Centers for Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics. It found the suicide rate had declined in 2020, even as the country’s residents faced mounting health, economic and social crises. [The Black Wall Street Times]

State Government News

Lessons of ‘polar vortex’ shared with commission: At the request of Oklahoma Corporation Commission Chair Dana Murphy, Southwest Power Pool Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Lanny Nickell on Tuesday shared with the commission “lessons learned” from February’s winter weather event. While the “polar vortex” that sent temperatures plummeting below zero in Oklahoma, Texas and throughout the region is considered a once-in-a-generation storm, SPP and other organizations in charge of electricity generation in the region are using the experience to learn how reliability can be strengthened and processes may be improved. [The Journal Record]

Listen To The Eighth Episode Of Focus: Black Oklahoma: On this episode, we speak with social justice organizations across the state who are being challenged by new legislation that they believe impedes their rights to assemble peacefully. [KOSU]

Term-limited Oklahoma senator to seek open treasurer seat: Mike Mazzei, a term-limited Republican state senator from Tulsa who also worked as Gov. Kevin Stitt’s top budget advisor, announced Tuesday that he would run for state treasurer next year. [AP News]

Federal Government News

Oklahoma GOP lawmakers fault Biden for Afghanistan withdrawal: Members of Oklahoma’s congressional delegation said Monday that the Biden administration botched the troop withdrawal and civilian evacuation in Afghanistan and that the mistakes will hurt U.S. security and the nation’s reputation. [The Oklahoman]

Nonprofit Fighting Hunger In Oklahoma Applauds Biden Administration For SNAP Benefits Increase: Oklahoma families receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits stand to receive 25% more than they did before the pandemic starting in October thanks to action by the Biden administration. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has reviewed the underlying numbers that determine SNAP benefits, resulting in the largest benefit increase in program history. The roughly 600,000 Oklahomans who get SNAP benefits in a given year will soon receive $1.62 per person per meal, up from $1.30. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Tribal Nations News

Oklahoma’s Indian gaming industry pays record $167 million to state: Oklahoma’s Indian gaming industry paid $167 million in exclusivity fees to the state last fiscal year, a record amount that signals the industry’s rebound. The coronavirus pandemic prompted all of Oklahoma’s tribally operated casinos to shutter within days of each other in March 2020. Most remained closed for two months or longer. The shutdown cut off a key revenue source for tribal governments, as well as the state. [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma to pay outside firm up to $700,000 in McGirt challenge: The state is paying an outside law firm up to $700,000 in its efforts to get a landmark court ruling on tribal sovereignty overturned. Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor earlier this month announced that the state would appeal the U.S. Supreme Court’s McGirt decision, which found that Congress never disestablished the Muscogee Nation reservation. [Tulsa World

Economic Opportunity

Spanish-speaking Tulsans get help signing up for emergency rent assistance: Following the extension of a moratorium on evictions in areas with high COVID-19 case numbers, hundreds of people went Tuesday to an east Tulsa church in hopes of getting help with applications for emergency rental assistance. [Tulsa World]

Economy & Business News

Cheap, easy entry leads to saturation of Oklahoma’s medical marijuana market: When Oklahoma legalized medical marijuana, Louisiana native Jeff Henderson jumped at the opportunity to get in on the ground floor. He and his partners, who had Oklahoma ties, didn’t have deep pockets, but after committing some savings and getting a bridge loan from a friend, the wide-eyed cannabis connoisseurs had themselves a boot-strapped business. [The Denver Post / The Journal Record]

  • Marijuana top crop in Oklahoma, concerns on the rise [FOX25]

Education News

Oklahoma Offering Free ACT, SAT to Students This Fall: A broken promise to the class of 2021 has turned into a golden opportunity for current high school students. This fall, students in 10th through 12th grades can take an additional college entrance exam for free if their school opts in. Available exams are the ACT, SAT and PSAT, which is the qualifying test for the National Merit Scholarship Program. [Oklahoma Watch]

Education Watch: What’s in Your School’s Water?: At the time only six facilities had applied to have the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality test their water for lead— even though the testing is free and 3,700 facilities are eligible. Since the story was published on July 9, seven more facilities have signed up. [Oklahoma Watch]

Western Heights case appealed to state Supreme Court: Western Heights Public Schools is challenging its state takeover once again — this time in the Oklahoma Supreme Court. An Oklahoma County district judge ruled on Thursday the Oklahoma State Department of Education had the legal right to take control of operations in the struggling school district. [The Oklahoman]

Public OKCPS meeting explores possible uses of pandemic relief dollars: Three rounds of pandemic relief funds have come to public schools since the pandemic started and Oklahoma City Public Schools is processing how best to spend the last round which has also been the biggest. Tuesday, Superintendent Sean McDaniel led the last of public meetings to get ideas on how to spend the last stage of money which is the largest. [Free Press OKC]

Oklahoma Local News

  • Oklahoma City Council approves resolution, talks mask mandate [The Oklahoman] | [OKC Free Press]
  • It’s not you: There’s lots of mixed messages being sent regarding Tulsa’s proposed mask mandate [Tulsa World] | [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • Tulsa City officials hire consultant for Kirkpatrick Heights/Greenwood master plan [Tulsa World]
  • TU announces scholarship offer for Afghan refugees [Tulsa World]
  • When it comes to small towns, Tuttle takes the cake [Tres Savage / NonDoc]
  • Here’s your shot to get a COVID vaccination and free early admission to the OKC Zoo [The Oklahoman]

Quote of the Day

“I did not really appreciate the insinuation that he was giving to people that he was going to end the federal benefits because we were lazy, and we’d rather sit at home on our butts than go back to work because we were making more on unemployment. None of these people are slackers. They’re people genuinely caught in the middle who never intended to be.”

-Valerie Killman, an Oklahoma mother of three including a daughter battling bone cancer, who is part of the lawsuit against the State of Oklahoma for its decision to cut off the distribution of additional federal unemployment benefits [The Frontier]

Number of the Day


Percentage increase of Oklahomans who identified as being two or more races during the 2020 Census when compared to 2010. This was the 8th highest increase among U.S. states. The largest increase in non-Hispanic Americans of two or more races was in Oklahoma, followed by Alaska and Arkansas. [U.S. Census Bureau]

Policy Note

Behind the Surprising Jump in Multiracial Americans, Several Theories: The Census Bureau released a surprising finding this week: The number of non-Hispanic Americans who identify as multiracial had jumped by 127 percent over the decade. For people who identified as Hispanic, the increase was even higher. The spike sent demographers scrambling. Was the reason simply that more multiracial babies were being born? Or that Americans were rethinking their identities? Or had a design change in this year’s census form caused the sudden, unexpected shift? The answer, it seems, is all of the above. [New York Times]

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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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