In The Know: School-age children make up state’s largest increase in virus cases | AG files to block school mask mandates | 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

School-age children make up Oklahoma’s largest increase in COVID-19 cases: Children made up the largest increase in the more than 4,000 new cases of COVID-19 the Oklahoma State Department of Health reported on Thursday, School-age children between the ages of 5-17 accounted for more than 20 percent of new cases. Thursday’s reported 4,152 new coronavirus infections was the 12th highest single-day total in Oklahoma since the pandemic started more than 18 months ago. It was the highest reported single-day case total since late January, when vaccines were still not widely available. [The Frontier] All age groups except children have hit at least a temporary peak in COVID infections in Oklahoma according to a health information sharing network in the state. [Public Radio Tulsa]

  • Oklahoma City eighth grader, remembered as a ‘beautiful soul,’ dies of COVID-19 [The Oklahoman] | [Public Radio Tulsa] | [KOSU]
  • Oklahoma schools mourning COVID-19 deaths of student [Tulsa World]
  • Lawton schools ‘treading tough waters’ with COVID [The Southwest Ledger]
  • State COVID cases headed in the wrong direction, Health Commissioner notes [Tulsa World]
  • Oklahoma doctors, tired but not deterred, push to get patients vaccinated [Oklahoma Watch]
  • What Oklahoma Doctors Have Been Hearing About Vaccines [Oklahoma Watch]
  • Integris Health joins other Oklahoma health systems in requiring COVID-19 vaccine for staff [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma Attorney General wants court order blocking school mask requirements: The Oklahoma Attorney General said Thursday his office will move as quickly as it can to block public school mask requirements that are in violation of a state law enacted this year. Attorney General John O’Connor said legal action could come as soon as next week. “I think we’ll probably have to ask for injunctive relief early in the lawsuit so that the schools have guidance. My basic position is that we can trust the parents. Somehow, we’ve sort of abandoned the notion that the parents are in the best position to protect their kids,” O’Connor said. [Public Radio Tulsa] O’Connor said something should come out as early as next week because some districts are openly violating state law. He said he isn’t suing them because they want to protect their children, but he is suing them so the courts can clear up the debate between recently passed SB 658 and what that means for local districts. [Fox23]

Gov. Kevin Stitt says McGirt legal decision is state’s ‘most pressing issue’: Gov. Kevin Stitt again called last year’s McGirt decision Oklahoma’s “most pressing issue” on Thursday while remaining mostly silent about the resurgence of COVID-19 or the new state law that limits local efforts to control it. Speaking to the Tulsa Regional Chamber at the Cox Business Convention Center, Stitt moved from references to the turmoil in Afghanistan to COVID-related mandates, praised the state’s budding film and electric vehicle industries, and proclaimed California Gov. Gavin Newsom “Oklahoma’s Economic Developer of the Year.” [Tulsa World] [Muscogee Nation Response via Twitter]

Five years after voters approved landmark criminal justice reforms, counties are still waiting for mental health funding: On any given day, four or five people sit in the mental health intake room at the Rogers County jail for observation. The small space is clean and painted different shades of blue, filled with a few chairs, a cot and a central station for a detention officer to work at. Prisoners can meet with a mental health professional in an office off to the side of the room. Many of the incarcerated people at the 250-person jail have substance abuse issues, said jail administrator Zach Starkey. The facility has a constant flow of people on suicide watch or special observation for mental health issues. [The Frontier]

Health News

‘Lives are at stake’: Advocacy group says Oklahoma long-term care must change: An advocacy group for seniors reacts to the Oklahoma long-term care industry’s pushback on President Biden’s vaccine mandate for nursing homes. Sean Voskuhl is state director of Oklahoma’s AARP group. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Hamilton: Mental health crisis apparent in Oklahoma: You’re doin’ fine, Oklahoma? Not when it comes to mental health. Last year 883 Sooners died by suicide, a 10% jump over 2019, according to Oklahoma Watch. Let that sink in … 833 of our neighbors died in despair, no longer able to cope with life. Heartbreaking. [Arnold Hamilton / The Journal Record]

State & Local Government News

Bipartisan Work Group Releases New Resource on Prescription Drug Costs: Maryland Delegate Bonnie Cullison (D) and Oklahoma Senator Greg McCortney (R) represent very different districts. Cullison’s borders Washington, D.C., and is densely populated and economically and ethnically diverse. McCortney describes his as “a lot of cows, a lot of hay and a few people.” One thing their constituents have in common: the need for affordable prescription drugs. [National Conference of State Legislatures]

New Oklahoma unemployment claims for week lowest since beginning of pandemic: Weekly unemployment claims in Oklahoma last week were a mixed bag of news, with initial claims declining to their lowest level since the beginning of the pandemic while the revised number of first-time claims for the previous two consecutive weeks increased, according to a government report. [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma City must pay nearly $1M over panhandling lawsuit: Oklahoma City must pay nearly $1 million to five attorneys who successfully challenged an anti-panhandling ordinance adopted by the city, a federal judge ruled this week. U.S. District Judge Joe Heaton issued the order approving 2,474 billable hours that attorneys spent on the case for a total of $986,350. [AP News] The ordinance first tried to outlaw panhandling along roadways. Then, when challenged, the City changed its argument and said that it was a matter of “safety.” [OKC Free Press]

Oklahoma County email, payment systems taken offline after threat discovered: Oklahoma County suspended its email and online form submission processes on Tuesday. A threat, discovered in the county’s computer system, led to the decision in a Tuesday emergency county commissioners’ meeting to take systems offline to prevent any damage. The hope is to have all systems fully rebuilt or restored before Monday morning, said Brian Maughan, chair of the board of county commissioners and commissioner for District 2. [The Oklahoman]

New cocktail to go law leaves many Enid restaurants unsure: A new state law allowing businesses to sell cocktails to go went into effect Wednesday. However, getting a drink to go may not be that simple. Employees with many restaurants and bars in Enid don’t know how or when they will go about this. Nearly all of the local dining establishments that sell beer, wine or liquor have said they won’t participate, while some don’t know enough to give an answer [Enid News & Eagle]

Contaminated weed is flooding Oklahoma’s marijuana market. State enforcement can’t keep up: Kenny Novotny had a problem. The owner of 1440 Processing was seeing lab results on over 90% of cannabis he bought and submitted for testing had failed. Those failed batches came from marijuana growers who supposedly tested the marijuana themselves after harvest, he said. They were supposed to be up to the standards outlined in Oklahoma state law, and shouldn’t have had elevated levels of pesticides, heavy metals or other dangerous chemicals — but they often did. [The Oklahoman]

Federal Government News

‘Take responsibility’: Oklahoma lawmakers blame Biden for service members’ deaths at Kabul airport: U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe said Thursday that President Joe Biden must hold accountable everyone responsible for the deaths of 13 U.S. service members in Afghanistan, while other members of Oklahoma’s congressional delegation blamed the president and called for an investigation. [The Oklahoman]

Tribal Nations News

‘We Are Seminole’: Freedmen Push For Full Citizenship: The Cherokee Nation granted citizenship to formerly enslaved people known as Freedmen in 2017. Now, other tribes are feeling pressure to do the same. And Congress is beginning to get involved. One of those people who is pushing the issue is LeEtta Osbourne Sampson. Pulling out a census sheet from the late 1800s, she talks about one of her ancestors. [KOSU]

Criminal Justice News

Oklahoma AG looks to resume executions, requests dates for Julius Jones, six other inmates: Oklahoma Attorney General John O’Connor is seeking execution dates for Julius Jones and six other death row inmates, marking the first such requests in six years as state officials fought legal battles and considered alternative methods of executions. The attorney general asked the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals to set execution dates for the inmates in the wake of a U.S. district judge’s ruling that six were eligible since they had not identified an alternative method in an ongoing constitutional challenge to the state’s protocols for lethal injection. A seventh did not challenge the protocols. [The Oklahoman] The action comes after the state put the death penalty on hold following the 2014 botched execution of Clayton Lockett, the 2015 execution of Charles Warner using the wrong drug, a review of the lethal-injection protocol and litigation. [Tulsa World] An attorney for some of the inmates, Dale Baich, criticized O’Connor for moving forward with executions while the federal case is pending. [AP News]

Misdemeanor charges can disrupt people’s lives. Here’s what happens when district attorneys stop prosecuting them: Misdemeanors don’t often receive much public attention. But for people on the receiving end of these charges, misdemeanors can be expensive, disruptive and a potential entry point to deeper involvement with the criminal legal system. In some cases, like the traffic stop that ended in Daunte Wright’s death, the policing of misdemeanors can be fatal. [Big If True]

Economy & Business News

Erika Lucas wants better representation in entrepreneurship, capital investment: According to the United State Census Bureau, only about 18 percent of businesses are minority-owned and about 20 percent are owned by women. While the number of these businesses is increasing, women and minority entrepreneurs still face a host of special challenges. For instance, Black and Latino entrepreneurs received only 2.6 percent of venture capital funds in 2020. [NonDoc]

Education News

State board suspends educators, asks Robert Everman to resign from Western Heights board: The Oklahoma State Board of Education voted unanimously today to request the resignation of Western Heights Board of Education President Robert Everman. The state board voted to take over governance of Western Heights Public Schools in July amid requests for a state audit and allegations of financial mismanagement. [NonDoc] Western Heights wasn’t the only school district to come under board scrutiny Thursday. The board indicated future action on Ninnekah Public Schools, a southwest Oklahoma school district reeling from a sexual abuse scandal, and suspended the certification of a longtime Shawnee Public Schools coach accused of sexual misconduct. [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma Local News

  • Tulsa City Council starts late as some attendees refuse to wear a mask [Tulsa World]
  • Tulsa City Council audience protests as public comments suspended after third opposition speaker [Tulsa World]
  • Audience cheers after lone ‘no’ vote to table mask ordinance [Tulsa World]
  • Editorial: Tulsa City Council stops short of the mask ordinance needed to combat the pandemic [Editorial Board / Tulsa World]
  • Tulsa’s Carnegie Elementary Closes Because Of Staff Absences But COVID Quarantines Not The Issue [Public Radio Tulsa] | [Tulsa World]
  • Haiti native ‘loving life’ in Enid, trying to bring family affected by earthquake to town [Enid News & Eagle]

Quote of the Day

“Our schools have a duty to protect students and staff, and Oklahoma isn’t doing enough. This is clearly an emergency.”

-Oklahoma State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister [The Frontier]

Number of the Day


Percentage of Oklahoma’s 4,152 virus cases reported Thursday that were school-age children (5-17), an increase of 5 percent from last week’s 7-day average for the same age group [The Frontier]

Policy Note

TANF Oklahoma: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) is a federally-funded program for children deprived of support because of a parent’s death, incapacity, absence or unemployment. Oklahoma’s TANF eligibility rules do not at the present adequately support work, protect children, or promote self-sufficiency, because income limits are too low and restrictions too great for most working families to qualify for benefits. [LegalAidOK]

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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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