In The Know: Omicron ‘just everywhere’ | Schools statewide shift virtual | Oklahoma study underscores vaccine importance

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

‘We’ve run out of shades of red’: COVID-19 spread worse than ever in Tulsa County: It’s hard to pinpoint where COVID-19 transmission is highest right now due to the omicron variant, Tulsa Health Department Executive Director Bruce Dart said Wednesday, because “it is just everywhere.” [Tulsa World]

  • The Omicron variant is hitting Oklahoma hard and creating troubles unseen in earlier surges [State Impact Oklahoma]
  • Tulsa MLK parade to go forward; other commemorative events canceled for COVID [Tulsa World
  • Ginnie Graham: Testing positive for COVID made me angry and grateful [Tulsa World

Unvaccinated were over 3 times more likely to be hospitalized or die of COVID, Oklahoma study shows: Across all age groups, people who weren’t vaccinated were more than three times more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 or die from the virus than those who were vaccinated. The study, which looked at data from October to November 2021, underscores the importance of vaccinations for COVID-19 and how the shots can save lives. [The Oklahoman

  • Oklahoma County COVID-19 vaccine tracker: 63% of people fully vaccinated [The Oklahoman
  • Hemp may hold key to blocking COVID from entering human cells, researcher says [Tulsa World

Oklahoma schools see worst round of COVID-19 closures since 2020: One by one, the schools closed. Then, the shutdowns became a cascade. Class cancellations in Oklahoma school districts have reached a breadth not seen since the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, as the highly transmissible omicron variant sets new records for daily infections. At least 150 of Oklahoma’s 540 districts and charter schools have announced school closings in the past week, affecting tens of thousands of students, according to tracking by StateImpact Oklahoma. [The Oklahoman]

  • Walters Demands Schools Do More To Stay Open; Hofmeister Calls Him ‘Out of Touch’ [News 9]
  • 175 Oklahoma school districts have pivoted to distance learning as coronavirus levels surge [KOSU]
  • Oklahoma school districts going virtual amid omicron surge [AP]
  • COVID breaks OKCPS, PCS in-person learning – now virtual rest of week [OKC Free Press]
  • OKCPS adds more COVID-related closures due to staff, student illness [OKC Free Press]

State Government News

Gun rights big focus of legislative session: Oklahoma lawmakers are doubling down on gun rights with a slew of bills filed for the 2022 legislative session. Even after passing laws last year to allow open carry without licensure, legislators are pushing again this year for further protections for gun owners and manufacturers. [The Journal Record]

Federal Government News

Build Back Better Act may reemerge this year: The Build Back Better Act is wounded but not dead and the final version could have serious implications for small businesses. The National Federation of Independent Business highlighted some major concerns during a webinar Wednesday. [The Journal Record]

Funding delay threatens KC-46 work at Tinker, general says: Congress’ failure to pass a defense spending bill poses numerous risks to Air Force readiness and could jeopardize progress preparing Tinker Air Force Base to maintain the new refueling tanker, the top uniformed official in the Air Force said Wednesday. [The Oklahoman]

Sentencing reset in Oklahoma man’s Jan. 6 Capitol riot case: Tanner Bryce Sells, 26, of Chandler, pleaded guilty in September to a misdemeanor count of illegally demonstrating inside the U.S. Capitol. His sentencing was reset to Tuesday. [The Oklahoman

Tribal Nations News

Guilty plea on federal sex abuse charge follows post-McGirt ruling on Quapaw reservation: The first person to be charged federally with a crime committed in the Quapaw reservation after an appellate court determined that it was still Indian Country pleaded guilty Wednesday to sexually abusing a minor. Lawhorn faced prosecution in federal court after the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals ruled in October that the state could not charge him because he was a tribal citizen and the alleged crime occurred within the never-disestablished boundaries of the Quapaw Nation, located in the far northeastern corner of the state. [Tulsa World

Criminal Justice News

Oklahoma County jail reports first detainee death of the year, investigation underway: The first death of an Oklahoma County jail inmate this year occurred Wednesday and is under investigation, according to a release from jail administration. 30-year-old Austin Bishop died Wednesday after lifesaving efforts were unsuccessful, according to the release. Officials did not provide the cause of his death. [The Oklahoman

Economy & Business News

OG&E plans additional investment in solar: Oklahoma Gas & Electric is poised to make its largest investment yet in solar power. Oklahoma’s largest provider of electricity, with nearly 871,000 customers in the state and in western Arkansas, recently issued a request for proposals from utility-scale providers of solar power. In a release, it said the move will further diversify its energy generation portfolio and increase renewable energy supply alternatives for customers. [The Journal Record]

Education News

School enrollment on rise again after pandemic plunge: Following a sharp, pandemic-related decline in public school enrollment across the state last year, numbers of students have largely rebounded this year in classrooms from Broken Bow to Woodward, the Oklahoma State Department of Education reported Wednesday. [The Journal Record]

    • Tulsa Public Schools now surpasses OKC as state’s largest district for first time since 2013 [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma Local News

Oklahoma woman worried about mom in nursing home, claiming bad living conditions and care; state survey report shows home’s past issues: A metro daughter is worried about her 90-year-old mother due to what she said are bad living conditions and issues with care at a local nursing home. An inspection on the Tuscany Village Nursing Center was done in July 2021. The center was found to be “not in substantial compliance” with multiple Medicare/Medicaid requirements. [KFOR

Quote of the Day

“Tulsa County, we have run out of shades of red to express how severe the case counts have become”

—Tulsa County Health Department describing the latest update to its weekly risk map [Tulsa World]

Number of the Day

$264 million

Oklahoma’s total unspent federal TANF funds (2020) designated to provide basic cash assistance for families with children when they face a crisis or have very low incomes. The funds can be carried over for future years, and Oklahoma’s unspent amount (2020) represents 191% of the state’s share of its 2020 block grant.

[Source: Center on Budget and Policy Priorities]

Policy Note

To Promote Equity, States Should Invest More TANF Dollars in Basic Assistance: Since replacing Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) in 1996, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant has been the primary source of funding for states to provide basic cash assistance for families with children when they face a crisis or have very low incomes. But states only spend a little over one-fifth of their combined federal and state TANF dollars on basic assistance for families with children. States continue to use their considerable flexibility under TANF to divert funds away from income support for families and toward other, often unrelated, state budget areas. By redirecting the funds back toward cash assistance, however, states could promote racial equity and child well-being. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kristin Wells joined OK Policy in October 2021 as the Communications and Operations Fellow. She previously worked as a digital content producer for News On 6. A native Kansas Citian, Kristin graduated with a B.A. in Media Studies and a B.A. in Spanish from the University of Tulsa in 2020. While there, she was accepted into the Global Scholars program, spurring her interests in policy, social movements, global identities, and the importance of education and advocacy. She hopes to use her skills to continue to learn and create a more equitable future for Oklahomans. An avid sports fan, Kristin lives in Tulsa with her rescue dog and is passionate about college basketball, documentaries, and coffee.

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