In The Know: Personnel changes for top jobs at two state agencies; panhandle outbreak prompts deep community divide; and 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.

Oklahoma News

Unemployment agency head resigns, commission votes to move agency IT and ‘business practices’ under OMES: The head of the state agency responsible for processing unemployment claims resigned abruptly Friday, following a meeting in which the agency’s information technology and business services were consolidated under another state agency. [The Frontier] “I’ve been asked since last Tuesday to take extended leave until all this is over, and I can’t just sit by and do that. And I had five different phone calls yesterday encouraging me to do so before the (OESC) meeting this morning,” said Robin Roberson. [The Oklahoman] The OESC meeting included an almost two-hour executive session to discuss technology security, fraudulent unemployment claims and a “high level OESC personnel review.” [NonDoc]

For first time in nearly three years, Oklahoma’s Commissioner of Health meets statutory requirements: For the first time since October 2017, the commissioner of Oklahoma’s department of health meets the statutory requirements for the position. [The Frontier] Gov. Kevin Stitt has announced Col. Lance Frye — a physician who serves as the state air surgeon of the Oklahoma Air National Guard — to be his next commissioner of health. [NonDoc] Frye replaces Gary Cox, whose nomination was never taken up by the state Senate after several senators expressed concerns that Cox, an attorney, lacks the qualifications to be state health commissioner. [AP News] Stitt said Frye’s medical background meets the statutory criteria. He will ask senators to appoint Frye permanently to the post next February. [CNHI via Tahlequah Daily Press]

In Guymon, opinions run hot in COVID-19 hot spot: The town of about 11,000 people, which is the seat of Texas County and about 230 miles northwest of Oklahoma City, had 709 cases of COVID-19 recorded as of Friday. That’s more cases than Tulsa and exceeded only by Oklahoma City. This has prompted health officials and national media to label Guymon as a coronavirus hot spot. [The Oklahoman] Five more COVID-19 cases bring Texas County to 889 [ABC7]

Virus outbreak prompts 151 Comanche County jail inmates to be sent to prisons at Sayre, McLoud: The Oklahoma Department of Corrections has completed transferring 151 Comanche County Detention Center inmates to two state prisons. All of the inmates tested negative for the coronavirus and were sent to the state facilities temporarily because of a massive COVID-19 outbreak at the county jail in Lawton. [Southwest Ledger] OK Policy and other Oklahoma organizations outlined actions that officials could take to manage the serious threat of a COVID-19 outbreak in Oklahoma corrections facilities. 

COVID-19: 53 new cases in state, two new deaths reported Monday: Newly confirmed COVID-19 cases rose by 53 and two more deaths were reported, the Oklahoma State Department of Health said Monday. There have been 313 deaths from the disease since March 19, according to state health data. [Tulsa World] Visit for the latest COVID-19 numbers in Oklahoma.

Health News

Half of Oklahoma’s reported coronavirus deaths come from care facilities such as nursing homes: In Oklahoma, the novel coronavirus’ toll on older adults has been staggering: Oklahomans age 65 and over make up nearly 80 percent of reported deaths in the state. In a recent one-week period, Oklahoma reported 18 deaths and 114 new cases of COVID-19 at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities, bringing the total number of residents and staff who have died to 155 as of May 22. [The Frontier] COVID-19 cases stabilizing at Grove nursing facility [Joplin Globe] OSDH says Stephens Co. nursing homes have multiple cases, system delay kept numbers from showing up [KXII]

The wild world of wrangling PPE: Oklahoma officials estimate they’ve spent thousands of hours over the past two months trying to wrangle PPE in a dog-eat-dog market filled with broken promises. They described shady deals and battles with more robust state and international governments all elbowing for the same shipments. [CNHI via Woodward News]

Oklahoma to receive decontamination system for N95 Masks: Hospitals, health care workers, and first responders in Oklahoma will soon have the option of recycling their N95 masks with the state receiving a new decontamination system developed by Battelle, a global research and development organization headquartered in Columbus, Ohio. [OSDH / Poteau Daily News]

State Government News

Despite overrides, Legislature leaves some major vetoes in place: The Oklahoma Legislature reconvened Friday, pushed six bills into law despite Gov. Kevin Stitt’s vetoes and then adjourned again for the end of the 2020 regular session. In all this year, Stitt vetoed 18 bills and part of a 19th. Legislators overrode 10 of those in total, including the Fiscal Year 2021 budget that Stitt keeps reminding lawmakers that “they own.” [NonDoc] OK Policy: With SB 1046 veto, Gov. Stitt turns his back on thousands of Oklahomans who need health insurance due to pandemic.

Gov. Stitt vetoes bill to fund Medicaid expansion: A bill passed by the Legislature that would have provided key funding for Gov. Kevin Stitt’s expansion plan for Medicaid was vetoed by the governor. Senate Bill 1046, which would have increased fees paid by dozens of hospitals in the state to raise money needed to leverage a 9-to-1 match of federal dollars, was vetoed Thursday evening. [The Journal Record]

Legislature OKs letting governor’s emergency powers expire: The Oklahoma Legislature wrapped up its 2020 session on Friday after approving a resolution that calls for sweeping powers granted to the governor under a health emergency to expire at the end of the month. [AP News]

Capitol Insider: Historic day of veto overrides: A week after sending its final bills of the legislative session to Gov. Kevin Stitt for his consideration, Oklahoma lawmakers returned to the Capitol on Friday with vetoes on their minds. Six gubernatorial vetoes, to be exact. In short, breathtaking fashion, the legislature overrode vetoes on six bills the governor had vetoed just a few days before. The action came fast, even though the legislature is not legally required to conclude its work for another week, on the last Friday of May. [KGOU]

New law allows wage garnishment, rather than termination, for state employees who owe income taxes: Legislation that requires the garnishment of wages of state employees who are behind on paying state income taxes, rather than termination of employment, has been enacted. [Southwest Ledger]

Bill allowing videoconferencing in district courts becomes law: Courtrooms across the state will be allowed to use videoconferencing in district court proceedings. House Bill 3756, authored by Rep. Nicole Miller, R-Edmond, and signed into law by Gov. Kevin Stitt, authorizes the use of videoconferencing technology in all stages of civil or criminal proceedings, except in jury trials or trials before judges. [Enid News & Eagle]

Cities blocked from imposing aesthetic design standards under new law: After a coordinated effort by a handful of statewide organizations concerned with residential real estate, legislation to keep municipalities from imposing purely aesthetic design standards has now become law. Senate Bill 1713 became effective when Gov. Kevin Stitt signed the measure on Thursday. [The Journal Record]

Bill allowing home delivery of medical cannabis vetoed: A proposal to legalize home delivery of medical marijuana was included in a sweeping bill addressing Oklahoma’s cannabis industry, but the legislation was vetoed late Thursday by Gov. Kevin Stitt. [The Journal Record]

TSET sets aside $1M for new food access program: Oklahoma’s Tobacco Settlement Endowment Trust expects more people will need help buying healthy food amid an economic downturn driven largely by the COVID-19 pandemic. TSET will award up to $1 million in grants through a new food access program to help with that. [Public Radio Tulsa]

State Chamber has warning for judge in Epic Charter Schools case: The State Chamber of Oklahoma wants a judge to consider “potential dangers” when making a decision in a legal case involving Epic Charter Schools. At stake is the future of economic development in the state and “the quality of life for Oklahomans,” chamber attorneys warn. [The Oklahoman]

Federal Government News

Gov. Stitt, tribes submit legal arguments in dispute over state gaming compacts: An Oklahoma City federal court lawsuit between Oklahoma gaming tribes and Gov. Kevin Stitt moved one step closer to a potential judicial resolution Friday. Attorneys for Gov. Kevin Stitt and nine Oklahoma gaming tribes filed documents Friday telling a federal judge why they believe he should rule in their favor in a legal dispute over gaming compacts between the tribes and state. [The Oklahoman]

Two tribes defend new gaming compacts: Two tribes that broke away from other Oklahoma tribes to sign gaming compacts with Gov. Kevin Stitt say the amount of annual exclusivity fees they owe the state will drop by hundreds of thousands of dollars if the new agreements gain approval. [The Oklahoman]

Criminal Justice News

Inmate found dead at Oklahoma County jail: On Saturday, an inmate at the Oklahoma County jail was found dead inside his cell. The sheriff’s office said Matthew Mason, 35, was found Saturday morning, and a detention center investigation unit believes he hanged himself. [The Oklahoman]

Economic Opportunity

An already hungry state sees its food crisis deepen: Already the nation’s fifth-highest food insecure state where one in five children struggle with hunger, Oklahoma has seen an increased demand for food at schools, food banks and other social service organizations. The coronavirus pandemic forced the closure of schools and businesses, but Oklahoma has also been hit by a slumping oil and gas sector, which plays an outsized role in the state’s economy. [The Frontier] TSET sets aside $1M for new food access program [Public Radio Tulsa]

Oklahoma’s childcare centers slowly starting to reopen: Childcare centers across Oklahoma are slowly starting to reopen after the coronavirus forced many to close. More than 650 out of almost 3,000 childcare centers statewide are temporarily closed because of challenges created by the coronavirus. [KOSU] Ask OK Policy: Pandemic highlights importance of child care in Oklahoma.

State jobless rate soars to 13.7%, up almost 11% in one month: The jobless rate in Oklahoma shot up almost 11% in one month, from 2.9% in March to 13.7% in April, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That was the biggest one-month increase and the highest unemployment rate in at least a decade if not longer, BLS records indicate. In a related matter, the Oklahoma Policy Institute estimated that 93,000 Oklahomans would be uninsured if the unemployment rate reaches 15%. [Southwest Ledger]

Economy & Business News

Owasso restaurant owners who laid off 130 in wake of COVID-19 press on: The abrupt transition left restaurant owners with stocked inventories, expanded menus and spreadsheets marked with positive projections, but with locked doors and dining rooms full of empty seats. [Oklahoma Watch]

Oklahoma home sales healthy despite pandemic: The state is not just adjusting. Under the relaxing restrictions, Oklahoma real estate is rocking. “Oklahoma is really bucking the national trend,” Kennedy, Oklahoma City Metropolitan Association of Realtors board member. [The Journal Record]

Struggling rural grocery stores get a pandemic-driven boost: Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, grocery store aisles have been crowded, and shelves emptied of basic food items. To avoid the mayhem, some shoppers are turning to smaller markets in more rural areas. That’s giving rural grocery stores a boost. [KOSU]

Super-charging Oklahoma: Advocate believes state is well-primed for electric vehicles: David Jankowsky believes Oklahoma is absolutely ready to become the electric vehicle capital of the world. “It is at our fingertips,” he said. Jankowsky, president of Francis Energy, was not, as one might suspect these days, simply parroting the enthusiasm many Tulsans feel about the possibility of Tesla building its next factory here. [Tulsa World]

Education News

OSSAA Board rejects rules for phased opening of summer sports: The body that oversees high school sports narrowly voted Friday to not approve rules to phase in summer activities. The Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association board of directors voted 7-6 Friday to reject a proposed plan that would’ve eased into high school sport summer activities. [StateImpact Oklahoma] The rejected guidelines laid out a three-phased plan to resume full activities in August, which started with strength and conditioning sessions under safety precautions like temperature checks for most of June. [Public Radio Tulsa]

General News

Sen. Ikley-Freeman injured, man killed in turnpike accident: Sen. Allison Ikley-Freeman, D-Tulsa, is hospitalized at the OU Medical Center in Oklahoma City after being involved in a traffic accident along the Turner Turnpike on her way to the State Capitol. Another motorist was killed, according to the Oklahoma Highway Patrol. [NonDoc]

Oklahoma tops list of illegal shipping of fighting chickens, says animal welfare group: Nearly 20 years after Oklahoma made cockfighting and the possession of chickens used for cockfighting a felony, the state is one of the largest exporters of game fowl used in illegal cockfights in the country, according to a national animal rights group. [The Frontier]

7 Oklahomans featured in New York Times recognizing the nearly 100,000 dead of coronavirus: As America gets closer to 100,000 deaths connected to the cornoavirus outbreak, the New York Times dedicated its front page Sunday to 1,000 of them by name and what made them special. The list includes seven Oklahomans. [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma Local News

  • Oklahoma City Council considers police, fire cuts [The Oklahoman]
  • OKC leaders want more funding for small businesses affected by COVID-19 [KOCO]
  • New app will help address homelessness in Oklahoma City [The Oklahoman]
  • Norman Citizens Advisory Board says NPD investigation was ‘expeditious,’ followed policy [Norman Transcript]
  • City of Woodward facing challenging budget year [Woodward News]

Quote of the Day

“If you go to the local Walmart, I would say 10 percent of people are wearing masks, and the restaurants … that are open are packed. But [people] don’t seem to know the science behind it. Even though they see the news, they just think it’s all overblown.”

-Dr. Jeffrey Lim, an internal medicine physician in Guymon, where COVID-19 cases have dramatically increased due to an outbreak at a local meatpacking plant [Washington Post]

Number of the Day


Percentage of Oklahomans who have completed their 2020 Census as of May 24, 2020, which lags the national average of 60.1%.

[Source: U.S. Census Bureau]

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

The other COVID-19 risk factors: How race, income, ZIP code can influence life and death: Federal health officials have known for nearly a decade which communities are most likely to suffer devastating losses ― both in lives and jobs ― during a disease outbreak or other major disaster. In 2011, the CDC created the Social Vulnerability Index to rate all the nation’s counties on factors such as poverty, housing and access to vehicles that predict their ability to prepare, cope and recover from disasters. [USA Today]

You can sign up here to receive In The Know by e-mail.


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.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.