In The Know: Omicron variant found in state | State joins suit against federal Head Start virus rules | 2021’s biggest stories

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

OK Policy reflects on 2021’s biggest stories: As 2021 comes to an end, our OK Policy staff looked back at the largest issues from the past year. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic continues to loom large in the lives of all Oklahomans, with outsized impacts for low-income Oklahomans and our communities of color. This year also marked the beginning of Oklahoma expanding Medicaid coverage to low-income residents that provided health care access to more than 230,000 Oklahomans, many of whom did not previously have coverage. [Kristin Wells / OK Policy]

Health News

Oklahoma becomes 49th state to identify omicron COVID-19 variant: Oklahoma health officials announced Tuesday that they’ve detected the state’s first confirmed case of the omicron COVID-19 variant. [Public Radio Tulsa] The Oklahoma State Department of Health didn’t release any information about where the case originated or whether the person was vaccinated. [AP News] Oklahoma was among the last states to detect the omicron variant through sequencing positive COVID-19 samples, though experts had said it was likely already circulating before it was officially found. [The Oklahoman]

  • More from [Tulsa World] | [The Journal Record] | [KGOU] | [KOSU]
  • Oklahoma experts expect ‘a little bit of a crisis’ ahead as omicron swiftly becomes dominant COVID variant [Tulsa World]
  • (Audio) Listen Frontier: Omicron variant is likely in Oklahoma. What now? [The Frontier]
  • Here’s where you can get tested for COVID-19 in Oklahoma [KOSU]

Experts offer advice for Oklahomans dealing with grief during holidays: The holidays could be difficult this year for Oklahoma families spending the season without a loved one. Many have lost relatives to COVID-19, which was the third-leading cause of death in Oklahoma so far this year, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows. [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma doctors issue public letter denouncing prosecutions involving pregnancy and allegations of drug use: Oklahoma doctors specializing in Obstetrics and Gynecology, Maternal-Fetal Medicine, Women’s Health, and Substance Use Disorders in Pregnancy signed a joint letter condemning the criminalization of pregnancy and drug use. [The Black Wall Street Times]

State Government News

Board advances up to $800 million in bonds for storm-related OG&E ratepayer debt: The Oklahoma Development Finance Authority authorized the sale of up to $800 million in bonds today to purchase and pay off $748.9 million in OG&E ratepayer debt incurred when natural gas prices spiked in February 2021. Now approaching its final approvals, the effort is set to become the first utility ratepayer debt securitization in state history, with three more proposals — which could bump the total to more than $4 billion — following close behind. [NonDoc]

Creche erected in state Capitol legal: As Christian supporters Monday erected what is believed to be the state’s first nativity scene in recent years inside the state Capitol, one watchdog group warned the state also must allow other displays on the same topic in the future. [CNHI via The Norman Transcript]

Election News

Poll: Stitt leads Hofmeister 47%-32%; Lankford comfortably leads primary opponents: AI’s Dec. 15-19 survey of 500 registered Oklahoma voters show Gov. Kevin Stitt leading likely 2022 Democratic opponent Joy Hofmeister 47%-32%, and the two best-known GOP primary challengers to U.S. Sen. James Lankford in single digits among Republican voters. [Tulsa World]

Federal Government News

Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor joins 24-state lawsuit to block President Biden’s Head Start COVID-19 mandates: Oklahoma Attorney General John O’ Connor has joined a 24-state lawsuit to block President Biden’s mandate for COVID-19 precautions within Head Start programs. The lawsuit, led by Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry, takes aim of the president’s requirement that children within Head Start programs wear face masks and Head Start teachers and staff be vaccinated by Jan. 31, 2022. [KGOU]

OU professor leads Tar Creek cleanup, seeks federal funds: In 1984, the Environmental Protection Agency determined water at Tar Creek in northeastern Oklahoma was so polluted that it could not be cleaned up, and the agency walked away from the ecological disaster with no plans to ever come back. [The Journal Record]

Tribal Nations News

Chief asserts tribe’s treaty right to hunt, fish on reservation: Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. signed an executive order Monday asserting the tribe’s treaty right for citizens to hunt and fish within the Cherokee Nation Reservation. The action follows Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt’s decision to not renew hunting and fishing license compacts with tribes. [The Journal Record]

  • How will Cherokee Nation hunting licenses, enforcement work? [The Oklahoman]

Criminal Justice News

OU architecture students redesign Oklahoma County Jail with focus on rehabilitation: Senior architecture student J.D. Zogg led the 17-student redesign project, named “Reconstructing Incarceration,” to address the serious overcrowding and design problems with the Oklahoma County Jail. The team’s redesign makes the jail 48.5% more energy efficient and would save 5 million pounds of carbon dioxide through the use of clean energy and solar panels. The new plan is also structured to promote better mental health outcomes for inmates. [StateImpact Oklahoma]

  • Officials: Oklahoma County detainee dies in hospital [KFOR]

Man shot by Tulsa Police officer sues city, officer: A man shot by a Tulsa police officer is suing the city of Tulsa and the officer who shot him, who has since faced a criminal charge himself. Michael Delaney claims in a lawsuit filed Friday in Tulsa federal court that the city of Tulsa Police has a “pattern of using unnecessary and excessive force on civilians, especially those who are not suspected of serious crimes.” [Tulsa World]

Economy & Business News

Oklahoma’s holiday travel near pre-pandemic levels: Travel is picking up across Oklahoma as Will Rogers World Airport and the state’s highways are seeing an increase in passengers headed for holiday vacations and family gatherings. [The Oklahoman]

Getting rid of guts and other scraps is holding back small, Midwestern meat processors: When cattle go to slaughter, America’s factory-scale processors make a buck off more than ground beef and steak. They squeeze more profit from the carcasses by finding markets for the tongues, the hearts and less appetizing parts of the animal. [KOSU]

Education News

It will be easier for Oklahoma students to transfer in 2022: Touted as one of the state’s most significant education reforms of the 2021 legislative session, Senate Bill 783 makes transferring between districts easier. The measure requires schools to publish how many students they can accept at a site and be willing to accept any students into their schools if possible. [KGOU]

More than $9M in funding to be withheld from Epic Charter Schools: Oklahoma State Board of Education members unanimously voted Thursday to withhold $9.1 million that was slated to be paid to Epic Charter Schools in the upcoming year. [KGOU]

Oklahoma Local News

Quote of the Day

“Data show that criminalization of substance use in pregnancy deters mothers from seeking healthcare for themselves and their children. Scaring pregnant patients away from the doctor’s office will not move us closer to healthier pregnancies and deliveries in Oklahoma.”

-A joint letter signed by 37 Oklahoma doctors specializing in obstetrics and gynecology, maternal-fetal medicine, women’s health, and substance use disorders in pregnancy. The letter condemned the criminalization of pregnancy and drug use. [Black Wall Street Times]

Number of the Day


Percentage of Oklahoma adults living in households with children who delayed getting medical care because of the coronavirus pandemic (6/9/21 through 7/5/21), with the peak this year of 35% (February/March). The national rate was 18% for June/July, with the national peak this year of 33% in January. [KIDS COUNT]

Policy Note

Pandemic Poses Short- and Long-Term Risks to Babies, Especially Boys: The pandemic has created a hostile environment for pregnant people and their babies. Stress levels among expectant mothers have soared. Pregnant women with covid are five times as likely as uninfected pregnant people to require intensive care and 22 times as likely to die. Infected moms are four times as likely to have a stillborn child. Yet some of the pandemic’s greatest threats to infants’ health may not be apparent for years or even decades. [KFF]

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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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