In The Know: Oklahoma’s health system ranks next to last | 2nd inmate dies with COVID symptoms | School virus reports won’t be publicly reported

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

Oklahoma’s health system ranks next to last overall, but Medicaid expansion will improve that, report says: Oklahoma’s health system ranks next to last overall in the U.S. but is primed for improvement after Medicaid expansion kicks in, according to the latest Commonwealth Fund analysis of 49 performance metrics. The 2020 Scorecard on State Health System Performance rates only Mississippi as worse out of all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Oklahoma is one of four states to recently approve but not yet implement Medicaid expansion; 12 other states haven’t done so. [Tulsa World] [2020 Scorecard on State Health System Performance report / Commonwealth Fund]

Second prison inmate dies with COVID symptoms: A second prison inmate has died after being hospitalized for COVID-19 symptoms. The Oklahoma Corrections Department announced the death Thursday as House Democrats asked the governor to implement a regular testing program for all guards and other employees. [The Oklahoman] As of Wednesday, 92 prisoners at Joseph Harp were infected with COVID and eight were hospitalized. [KGOU] According to the Oklahoma Department of Corrections website, 1,623 offenders statewide have tested positive. About 200 prison staff members also have tested positive. [Tulsa World]

  • COVID-19: Oklahoma records 13 more coronavirus-related deaths and 771 new, confirmed infections [Tulsa World]
  • Various COVID tests offered, some quicker than others [Tahlequah Daily Press]

Oklahoma plans to collect but not publicly report school COVID cases: The Oklahoma Department of Education is working on a process for collecting information on COVID-19 cases inside schools, a system officials with the Oklahoma Department of Health said they will support but will not take the lead on. However, there are no plans by the state to make this information public. [KFOR]

  • As students return, the deaths of at least six teachers from COVID-19 renew pandemic fears [New York Times]
  • Jenks Public Schools returns to in-person instruction after starting the school year through distance learning [Tulsa World]
  • Union experiencing districtwide uptick in reported COVID-19 cases weeks after in-person classes begin [Tulsa World] | [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • Stillwater School Board considering new metrics to govern sports, extracurriculars during elevated risk [Stillwater News Press]
  • Norman Public Schools confirms 6 new COVID-19 cases across 4 school sites [Norman Transcript]
  • OEA responds to parents wanting students back in the classroom [NewsOn6]

Oklahoma County sees more eviction cases after executive order: An executive order ending certain evictions across the country for the rest of the year went into effect last week, but Oklahoma County Courts continue to see more cases on its dockets. There are 143 eviction cases on the dockets for Friday, one of the busiest days since the courts reopened. [FOX25] OK Policy and its Open Justice Oklahoma program have been tracking evictions in Oklahoma and noted that policymakers must do more to prevent evictions and foreclosures during and after the COVID-19 crisis.

  • 32% of renters haven’t paid their full rent bill, study reports: Renters continue to struggle in the wake of lapsed unemployment supplements to make housing payments. ApartmentList found that 10% of renters failed to make their full August payment by the end of the month and 1 in 6 started September owing $1,000+ in missed rent. In the first week of September, 32% of renters had not paid their full rent bill. [FOX25]

Health News

Visitation at long-term care facilities can resume more quickly under new guidelines: The revised guidelines, announced Wednesday, aim to balance safety during the COVID-19 pandemic and worries about the effects of prolonged social isolation for those living in nursing homes. [The Oklahoman]

How long will we be wearing masks?: Health officials are formulating a response to the question that recently has been posed repeatedly to Oklahoma City leaders: How long do we have to wear masks? [The Journal Record]

Efforts underway to make addiction treatment readily available to rural Oklahomans: Oklahoma State University’s National Center for Wellness & Recovery is rapidly expanding its telemedicine services with a goal of making addiction treatment readily available to rural Oklahomans. [The Oklahoman]

More Oklahomans seeking mental health help during pandemic: Officials with Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services say calls to the 211 social services line have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, but add this may be a “good” thing, as more Oklahomans are reaching out for available help. [Enid News & Eagle]

State Government News

New unemployment program ends before a single Oklahoman is paid: Extra unemployment benefits are about to come to an end for thousands of Oklahomans. The federal government on Wednesday told states that the program, created under an executive order from President Donald Trump, was ending. The program provided an extra $300 to $400 a week to people because Congress didn’t extend the $600-a-week program from early in the pandemic. But before anyone in Oklahoma received a cent, the new program was ended. [KOCO]

  • Federal wage assistance coming to unemployed: The Lost Wages Assistance (LMA) program, which is funded by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), was ended by the federal government on Sept. 9 after only five weeks of being in place. According to an Oklahoma Employment Security Commision press release, Oklahoma is applying for a sixth week of the LMA program. The program will provide $300 in weekly unemployment benefits to claimants in Oklahoma. [The Norman Transcript]

President’s downplay ‘problematic’ but local officials insist response was serious from day one: Despite President Donald Trump’s comments that he wanted to “downplay” the danger of COVID-19 at the beginning of the global pandemic, local officials and state health representatives insist they were treating the coronavirus “extremely seriously” from day one. [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma unemployment claims down for 11th straight week: The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission on Thursday reported that initial and continued claims fell for the week ending Sept. 5, marking 11 straight weeks of fewer Oklahomans needing unemployment benefits. [The Journal Record] The number of Oklahomans who filed initial unemployment insurance claims last week declined 13% from the prior week, although the change will likely be less based on past reports. [Tulsa World]

Drilling down for funds to help municipalities: Oklahoma’s oil and gas industry is caught up in a “devastating, transformational storm” and should be considered fragile by state lawmakers looking for ways to increase revenues, Oklahoma Petroleum Alliance President Brook Simmons said. [The Journal Record]

State coronavirus report, panhandling ordinance unconstitutional, absentee ballot arguments & more (audio): This Week in Oklahoma Politics discusses a new White House Coronavirus report putting our state in the top ten for COVID positivity rate and daily cases per capita, a federal appeals court declares Oklahoma City’s 2015 anti-panhandling ordinance unconstitutional and Attorney General Mike Hunter defends the state’s absentee ballot law. [KOSU]

Strained rural water utilities buckle under pandemic pressure: Rural water and wastewater systems have largely been left out of federal and state pandemic relief, and yet they play critical roles in local economies. Homes rely on them, of course, but so do small businesses such as eateries and large companies such as manufacturers and processing plants. [Pew Trusts]

Chickasaw woman works her way up to win Oklahoma legislative seat: The value of service was instilled into Chickasaw citizen Chelsey Branham at a young age. Her passion for helping others is evident in her life, from mission trips to graduate studies. Her service now includes serving as an Oklahoma State Representative. [Red Lake Nation News]

Criminal Justice News

State juvenile justice agency launches training to address race-based ‘injustice and inequality’: The Oklahoma Office of Juvenile Affairs, the state’s juvenile justice agency, has launched a training program for its staff and outside law enforcement agencies to “improve interaction and outcomes with youth who are minorities.” [Public Radio Tulsa] An Open Justice Oklahoma report describes the continuing unevenness within our juvenile justice system. The justice system will continue to be unfair to people of color unless lawmakers take deliberate steps to fix it. Closing the gap in these disparities for youth is necessary for long-term justice reform in our state.

Video showing shootings of Tulsa Police officers will be made public Monday, judge rules: A Tulsa County judge on Thursday ordered video footage showing the shootings of two Tulsa police officers, one of whom died, to be made publicly available as of Monday. [Tulsa World] Tulsa County District Judge William Musseman said Thursday after watching the footage, he does not think its release will affect the prosecution of David Ware and Matthew Hall. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Economy & Business News

‘Save Our Stages’ seeks help for struggling live music venues: The fight is on to save small businesses in Oklahoma City and elsewhere after COVID-19 forced many of them to shut down. Business owners and musicians gathered Thursday to push for legislation to “save our stages,” as the initiative is being called. [KOCO]

Education News

Stitt names Ryan Walters new secretary of education: Gov. Kevin Stitt has nominated Ryan Walters, a former state teacher of the year finalist and executive director of the reform group Every Kid Counts Oklahoma, as the new Oklahoma Secretary of Education. [NonDoc] Walters is the former executive director of Oklahoma Achieves, an education initiative from the State Chamber of Oklahoma. He now leads Every Kid Counts Oklahoma, which is distributing $8 million of Stitt’s federal coronavirus aid funds dedicated to education grants. [The Oklahoman] Walters replaces Oklahoma Secretary of State Michael Rogers, who had also been serving as the state’s secretary of education since January 2019 before resigning the position in August and remaining as secretary of state. [McAlester News-Capital]

General News

Oklahomans urged to complete 2020 Census: The start of September means one month remains on the 2020 Census and Oklahoma officials are making a last push to get as many Oklahomans counted as possible. The Federal Government moved up the originally scheduled deadline (Oct. 31) to Sept. 30 to allow the Census bureau to meet its statutory deadline of providing data to Congress and the president by the end of the year. [Greater OKC Chamber / VeloCity OKC]

Oklahoma Local News

Quote of the Day

“It’s concerning in the context of what’s happening right now that the rate of preventable deaths is already so high in Oklahoma.”

-Sara Collins from the Commonwealth Fund discussing its 2020 Scorecard on State Health System Performance. The report found Oklahoma’s health system ranking next to last overall in the U.S. behind Mississippi. [Tulsa World

Number of the Day


Added to the economy from each $1.00 in federal assistance to state and local governments

[Source: Economic Policy Institute]

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Denying federal aid to state, local governments could put neediest residents at risk: “It would allow us to feed people in our community. It would allow us to provide help to small businesses. It would allow us to help with rent and mortgage relief which is so desperately needed.” [ABC News]

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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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