In The Know: Pandemic drives Medicaid enrollment increases | COVID-19 hotspots | Teachers concerned about classroom return

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

House, Senate announce slate of approved interim studies (Capitol Update): Interim studies approved by House and Senate leaders were announced last week. The House had previously announced the request of 92 interim studies, and 74 were approved. The Senate did not reveal study requests but announced approval of 39 of 64 interim studies. Studies will likely begin in August with dates and agendas to be announced by Committee Chairs. It is always interesting to see the breadth of interests reflected in interim study requests. [Capitol Update / Steve Lewis]

Oklahoma News

State Medicaid enrollment reaches new monthly highs amid pandemic: Medicaid enrollment in Oklahoma reached new highs in May and June, driven by widespread job losses and federal action meant to prevent states from dropping people from the health coverage. Enrollment in SoonerCare, the state’s Medicaid program, jumped to 865,851 in June. That was up by more than 32,500 from May, which was up about 11,500 from April. [The Oklahoman]

‘Is it worth it?’: Area teachers worry about returning to classrooms during height of pandemic uncertainty: Educators across the Tulsa metro and state are struggling to weigh the desire to see their students against the risk of infecting themselves and their families by going back to school during an ongoing pandemic. The Oklahoma Education Association has received numerous requests from teachers to have free wills drawn up by the union’s legal team in recent weeks. [Tulsa World]

  • CDC says it’s important to reopen schools [AP via Indian Country Today]
  • Lesson Plan: School districts describe path to reopening [The Oklahoman]
  • Schools set plans, precautions for fall semester [The Oklahoman]
  • Virus creates challenges for future teachers [The Oklahoman]
  • Putnam City to start school year virtually [The Oklahoman]
  • Start of school may be delayed for Muskogee students [Muskogee Phoenix]
  • Owasso Public Schools updates mask policy: District mandates students, staff to wear protective gear [Tulsa World]
  • OU College of Education students, graduates struggle to prepare for teaching careers amid COVID-19 challenges [OU Daily]
  • Parents have mixed feelings on kids returning to school [Tahlequah Daily Press]
  • Editorial: State, local school boards make plans based on information at hand [Editorial / Enid News & Eagle]

COVID-19 poses another challenge for schools: Air quality: Plans to safely reopen Oklahoma schools are plentiful, but not much can be done to improve air quality in buildings. School officials must rely on existing equipment that is not designed to filter out coronavirus particles. Replacing heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning systems to meet new guidelines for addressing COVID-19 is cost prohibitive for school districts unless patrons agree to pay for it through a bond issue. Even upgrading current systems by incorporating higher-grade filters is expensive and is not always feasible, experts agree. [Oklahoma Watch]

COVID-19 hotspots in Oklahoma: Altus’ active cases up 47%: Altus, Claremore and Tahlequah were among the biggest hotspots for COVID-19 infections in the past week, according to an analysis of Oklahoma State Department of Health ZIP code data. [Oklahoma Watch] The number of reported coronavirus cases in Oklahoma has surpassed 30,000 and nearly 500 have now died. [AP News]

  • Oklahoma reports 1,204 new coronavirus cases, no new deaths [AP News]
  • State to expand coronavirus contact tracing by texting [Tulsa World]
  • Surge in COVID-19 cases is ‘ongoing challenge’ for Muskogee health care providers [Muskogee Phoenix]

Health News

More younger Oklahomans dying of COVID-19 raises concern: The head of coronavirus response at the University of Oklahoma Medical Center said Friday that an increase in the number of younger Oklahoma residents dying as a result of the virus has become a worry. [AP News]

‘It’s given me a life’: ADA marks 30 years of helping people with disabilities: A Tulsa woman shares her story about how she might not have been able to give her children and foster children the breadth of the experiences they have had had it not been for the Americans with Disabilities Act. It laid a legal framework for accommodations and accessibility, and Sunday marked its 30th anniversary. [Tulsa World]

Commissioner of Mental Health Carrie Slatton-Hodges: ‘These diseases don’t discriminate’: NonDoc recently asked Carrie Slatton-Hodges, the interim commissioner of the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, some questions to help Oklahomans get to know her and hear about her plans for the department. [NonDoc]

As pandemic continues, families worry for loved ones in nursing homes, want to see policy changes: As the pandemic continues, some want to see policy changes so residents aren’t isolated and families or advocates can inspect nursing home care in-person. This is a complaint many families have voiced, according to state officials. [The Oklahoman]

First pediatric COVID-19 death had preexisting conditions, family says: A 13-year-old Fort Sill resident who tested positive for the coronavirus and died had preexisting medical conditions that compromised her immune system, her family said in an online post. [The Oklahoman]

Capitol Insider: Health Commissioner Lance Frye on Oklahoma’s COVID-19 plan: With coronavirus surging across the U.S. and the number of cases growing in Oklahoma, interim Commissioner of Health Colonel Lance Frye discussed the current situation in the state with KGOU’s Dick Pryor and eCapitol’s Shawn Ashley. [KGOU]

State Government News

State’s legal fees in Stitt’s tribal gaming flap top $1.5 million: Gov. Kevin Stitt’s office has spent more than $1.5 million in legal and other fees in a flap with tribes over gaming compacts. The costs are expected to rise. [Tulsa World]

Editorial: The state’s unemployment rate is way down, which is good news, if it can be sustained:  Oklahoma’s unemployment rate fell from 12.6% to 6.6% in June. While those numbers have to be considered within context, it is still good news. Any celebration, however, must be tempered by at least three concerns. [Tulsa World]

Editorial: Stitt’s appointees to the McGirt advisory commission reflect a lack of diversity: Gov. Kevin Stitt’s appointments to an advisory commission investigating implications of the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent McGirt decision are amazingly undiverse. That won’t serve Stitt or the state well. [Tulsa World]

Political notebook: Senate promises transparency in redistricting: President Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Edmond, promised the committee redrawing Oklahoma Senate districts over the next year will accept public input, including suggested maps. [Tulsa World]

Op-Ed: A rough month for the governor: The first month of summer hasn’t been kind to Oklahoma’s 28th governor. [Arnold Hamilton Op-Ed / Journal Record]

Federal Government News

McGirt case is still making waves: Tribal citizens raised concerns about a possible ‘midnight rider’ to the defense legislation that Sen. Jim Inhofe’s office denies. [Indian Country Today]

Arkansas Sen. Tom Cotton pitches bill to prohibit use of federal funds to teach 1619 Project: Republican Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas has introduced legislation that takes aim at the teaching of the 1619 Project, an initiative from The New York Times that reframes American history around the date of August 1619 when the first slave ship arrived on America’s shores. [CNN via Tulsa World]

Economic Opportunity News

Anticipating surge in Oklahoma evictions, organizations work to bolster mediation program: One analysis estimates as many as 133,000 evictions may be filed in Oklahoma over the next four months as a federal moratorium expires. Several organizations in the state are teaming up to head off any surge in evictions. The Oklahoma Access to Justice Foundation, Oklahoma Bar Association, and COVID task forces in Tulsa and Oklahoma City are working to beef up the Early Settlement Mediation Program. [Public Radio Tulsa]

  • Eviction filings likely to increase in Oklahoma as federal eviction moratorium ends [KGOU]
  • No shelter in COVID-19 storm: 28 million renters face evictions [Indian Country Today]

Education News

With COVID-19 precautions, eating on a college campus might seem ‘really weird’ this semester: Dining areas will offer few menu options and limited seating as students return next month to college campuses across Oklahoma, higher education officials say. [Tulsa World]

OU Regents to vote on strategic plan, compliance with new Title IX rules at Tuesday meeting: The University of Oklahoma’s Board of Regents will look to approve OU’s strategic plan, authorize a sabbatical with full pay for the university’s former provost and allow the university to comply with new federal Title IX rules at a meeting next week. [Norman Transcript]

Economy & Business News

Editorial: Texas got Tesla; Tulsa will move on, but first it needs to investigate why: Wednesday’s announcement that Tesla’s CyberTruck Gigafactory will be built in Austin, Texas, was disappointing. Tulsa might have always been an underdog in the competition for the giant production facility, but the city and its supporters fought hard for it, and the hope that built in the community naturally becomes frustration. [Editorial / Tulsa World]

Not everyone’s a fan of the ordinance, which can be tough to enforce: Norman business owners and community leaders discuss the mask mandate. [The Oklahoman

Criminal Justice News

Will every firearm Tulsa Police point be documented? ‘Jury is still out,’ Tulsa Police Chief says: Tulsa Police Chief Wendell Franklin says he might entertain the concept of requiring officers to document every time they point a firearm at a person, but he isn’t inclined to install that policy without either an example from other agencies or research. [Tulsa World]

Tulsa FOP Chair Op-Ed: Sgt. Craig Johnson was a police hero who was reluctant to use force and lost his life as a result: Oklahoma police training guidelines and state law authorize police to use deadly force whenever the officer’s life is threatened. This is the standard throughout the country. Yet newspapers are heavy with headlines of politically pandering prosecutors charging officers who defended themselves against deadly threats. [Officer Jerad Lindsey Op-Ed / Tulsa World]

Dr. Tiffany Crutcher Opinion: “There is no community policing without the community”: For years Tulsans, most affected by issues of racial bias in policing, have been doing the difficult work of asking for a seat at the decision-making table; and they have been denied. They have come to City Hall; they have gone to town hall meetings; they have gone to TPD and have called for justice in the streets. Now, once again, Mayor Bynum — who denies racial bias exists within the Tulsa Police Department — is spending taxpayer dollars on hiring outside consultants who likely have never experienced racial bias in policing, while failing to reach out to anyone who has been on the ground fighting for change since long before he chose to seek elected office. [Dr. Tiffany Crutcher Opinion / Black Wall Street Times]

General News

Tulsa’s search will continue for unmarked burials from 1921 Race Massacre: One thing repeated over and over on Thursday when the search for unmarked burials from Tulsa’s 1921 Race Massacre closed up shop in Oaklawn Cemetery was this: This isn’t over. [Tulsa World]

To understand another community, Norman pastor says it’s about showing up: Norman pastor Clarence Hill Jr., says the Three O’Clock hour of the Dream Clock project, a step-by-step guide people can use to achieve better understanding of other races, is frequenting places and spaces where you are the minority. Going to other parts of town for dinner, to shop or for a day at the park can all be ways of experiencing the lives of others and improving your understanding of other communities. [The Oklahoman]

3,614 absentee ballots rejected in Oklahoma’s June primary election: Roughly 3.6% of the mail-in ballots cast in Oklahoma’s June 30 primary election were rejected. Most of the rejected absentee ballots were not counted because they were turned in too late. At the latest, mail-in ballots had to be returned by the time polls closed on Election Day. [The Oklahoman]

In need of more rural Census responses, community leaders see few options during pandemic: The U.S. Census efforts have been interrupted by COVID-19, forcing the Bureau to push back deadlines and adjust to the pandemic. That’s left rural community leaders are struggling to adapt. [KOSU]

First Lady Melania Trump hopes to visit Cherokee Nation: First lady Melania Trump said she hopes to take the Cherokee Nation up on its invitation to visit the tribe’s headquarters in Tahlequah. [AP News]

‘Our compassionate hero’: Oklahomans pay tribute to late civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis: Rep. John Lewis, a longtime civil rights leader who died July 17 , has been much on the minds of former U.S. Rep. J.C. Watts and other Oklahomans in recent days, as they’ve joined others around the nation in reflecting on his legacy.[Tulsa World]

Op-Ed: Churches should have to file Form 990s: While people will say churches provide services for the community, money for religious activities should not be forgivable. They also should be held accountable to the taxpayers who provided these PPP funds. [Op-Ed / The Oklahoman]

Op-Ed: I vote, and I know I owe my ability to do so to brave women who came before me: As I reflect on my first vote, I must honor the thousands of women who carried me to the polls: the suffragists. My path to the polls was paved by their courage, intelligence and determination. This August, our nation will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment becoming law. The 19th Amendment provides that the right to vote shall not be denied or abridged on account of sex. [Op-Ed / Tulsa World]

Oklahoma Local News

  • Tulsa County has approved for allocation more than $57 million in federal COVID relief funding [Tulsa World]

Quote of the Day

“We also know that there are many, many more people who are not getting (health) coverage and do not have options and are coasting on hope, and hope is a terrible public health strategy.”

-Carly Putnam, Policy Director for OK Policy, talking about the need for Medicaid coverage during the pandemic [The Oklahoman

Number of the Day


Number of Oklahomans enrolled in SoonerCare, the state’s Medicaid program that provides health care access for low-income residents. 

[Source: Oklahoma Health Care Authority via The Oklahoman]

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Understanding the Intersection of Medicaid, Work, and COVID-19: The pandemic caused by coronavirus has resulted in a public health crisis but also a major economic crisis. Prior to the pandemic, most Medicaid adults were working in low-wage jobs. Many of these adults could experience job loss or face high health care risks/risks of contracting coronavirus if they retain “essential” jobs in health care or service industries. In both scenarios (i.e., job loss or job retention), current enrollees will retain Medicaid coverage due to “maintenance of eligibility” requirements included in recent federal legislation passed in response to COVID-19 regardless of changes in job status. In addition, many more adults are expected to qualify and enroll in Medicaid coverage as a result of the economic fallout from COVID-19 as people lose jobs, income, and other sources of coverage. [Kaiser Family Foundation]

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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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