In The Know: Schools prep for back to school as virus hits younger residents | RSV cases also spiking | Addressing vaccine hesitancy

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

Policy Matters: It takes all of us to keep Oklahoma safe: Each one of us has someone in our lives who needs extra protection from the COVID-19 virus. It could be a beloved grandparent. It could be a child not yet old enough for vaccination. It could even be someone you know who is quietly dealing with issues you aren’t aware of. Regardless of the reason, many Oklahomans may need just a little extra help in staying safe during this latest wave of the COVID-19 virus. [Ahniwake Rose / Journal Record]

Oklahoma News

Masks are optional. COVID cases are surging. And it’s time for back-to-school: The recent surge in COVID-19 cases is driving home a reality check: the 2021-22 school year isn’t likely to be normal after all. Many school leaders are revisiting their back-to-school plans and once again preparing for quarantines and shifts to virtual learning if necessary. But mask requirements, one of the mitigation measures used by many Oklahoma school districts last year, are off the table unless Gov. Kevin Stitt issues an emergency declaration. [Oklahoma Watch]

  • From no mask mandates to curriculum restrictions, here are 8 things to know about the next school year in OKC [The Oklahoman]
  • Union, Jenks school district release COVID reentry plans [Tulsa World]
  • Oklahoma City Public Schools gears up for another school year impacted by the coronavirus [KOSU] | [OKC Free Press]
  • Tulsa Public Schools officials can’t require but do ‘expect’ universal masking [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • COVID & Classrooms: Watch live Thursday as health, education experts answer your back-to-school questions [The Oklahoman]
  • COVID-19: 15,000 cases active with 880 hospitalized in state; breakthrough cases have killed 25 Oklahomans [Tulsa World]
  • Number of Oklahomans hospitalized with coronavirus at highest levels since February [The Frontier]
  • Health care workers overwhelmed, demoralized amidst COVID-19 surge [News On 6]
  • Oklahoma continues to rank dead last in the country for variant testing [FOX 25]
  • Most Oklahomans don’t want government vaccine mandates [The Journal Record]
  • Tulsa Mayor’s COVID working group discusses ways to increase vaccination rates [Tulsa World] | [Public Radio Tulsa]

Biden calls on governors like Stitt to ‘do the right thing’, allow schools to require masks: Addressing reporters from the White House Tuesday afternoon, President Joe Biden pleaded with governors of states, like Oklahoma, that have prohibited schools from requiring masks to mitigate COVID-19 to do more to help the nation in its fight against the coronavirus. “As of now, seven states not only ban mask mandates, but also ban them in their school districts, even for young children who cannot get vaccinated,” Biden said. “Some states have even banned businesses and universities from requiring workers and students to be masked or vaccinated…  What are we doing?” [Public Radio Tulsa]

  • Arkansas’ GOP governor wants to undo ban on mask mandates [CBS News]
  • Arkansas governor wants to reverse a law that forbids schools to require masks [NPR]

“Unheard of:” Rare summer RSV surge fills Oklahoma children’s hospitals: As the school year draws nearer, COVID-19 is not the only disease putting pressure on Oklahoma’s children’s hospitals. Across the state, kids are being admitted amid an unseasonable surge in respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV. [StateImpact Oklahoma] Oklahoma is one of the states that’s seen a big rise in pediatric RSV cases. [NPR / KGOU]

Health News

More Oklahomans qualify for care through Medicaid expansion: State health officials said thousands of Oklahomans have qualified for Medicaid under an expansion of the program approved by voters. The Oklahoma Health Care Authority reported Monday over 154,000 Oklahomans have qualified for benefits. Of those, almost 91,000 live in urban areas and about 63,000 in rural Oklahoma. About half are between 19 and 34 years old. [KSWO]

State Government News

Plan forming to distribute federal relief money: When a national disaster occurs, the federal government has a tendency to throw money at the problem. The state of Oklahoma, having weathered many natural disasters and a historic act of terrorism, is equipped to use those funds to the state’s best advantage. Melissa Houston is working with the Oklahoma Legislature and Gov. Kevin Stitt to utilize the $3.1 billion coming to the state in federal American Rescue Plan dollars, she told those attending the Oklahoma Department of Commerce’s monthly webinar on Wednesday. [The Journal Record]

McDaniel: Tax receipts show resilient, expanding state economy: A review of tax revenues earned by the state in July appears at first glance to show a reversal – a reduced bottom line of 15% compared to the same month last year – but state Treasurer Randy McDaniel described the result Wednesday as a distortion resulting from income taxes that were allowed to be paid by Oklahomans in July rather than in April last year. [The Journal Record]

Oklahoma state GOP chair again seeks donations after comparing unvaccinated to Holocaust victims: Republican Party Chairman John Bennett on Wednesday continued his attempts to raise money after comparing the treatment of unvaccinated people to that of Holocaust victims. [Tulsa World] Jewish groups in Oklahoma, including the Jewish Federation of Tulsa and Jewish Federation of Greater Oklahoma City, have condemned the rhetoric as offensive, inappropriate and hurtful. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Federal Government News

From roads to broadband, here’s what the federal infrastructure bill would fund for Oklahoma: Oklahoma would receive more than $5 billion for roads, bridges, electric vehicle charging stations and rural broadband expansion under the infrastructure bill being debated this week in the U.S. Senate, according to the White House. [The Oklahoman]

Tribal Nations News

Osage Nation provides up to $2,000 to tribal members negatively affected by COVID-19: The Osage Nation is using American Rescue Plan Act funds to provide cash assistance to tribal members who were negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Tribal members who have experienced a negative economic impact can receive up to $2,000 in cash assistance to help recover from the pandemic, the Osage Nation announced Wednesday. [Tulsa World]

Seminole Nation assistant chief candidates detail platforms before runoff election: Brian Thomas Palmer and Anthony “Buddy” DeWayne Wood are vying for the assistant chief seat in Saturday’s Seminole Nation of Oklahoma runoff election, but their paths to the ballot differ greatly. [NonDoc]

Incumbents retain seats in Chickasaw Nation election: Incumbents won all three Chickasaw Nation Tribal Legislature seats that were up for grabs in the election that wrapped up Tuesday, according to results provided by the tribe’s election secretary, Rita Loder. [NonDoc]

Plans to turn Ardmore airport into $124M shipping hub announced by Chickasaw Nation, partners: When the Chickasaw Nation bought 160 acres of land near a decommissioned military airport north of town, tribal leaders recognized the potential of an industrial site halfway between Oklahoma City and Dallas. Years later, on Wednesday, the tribe and others announced a joint $124 million project to turn the rural land into an air, rail and ground shipping hub. [The Oklahoman]

Criminal Justice News

Impact: Lawmaker plans study on Oklahoma’s rape kit backlog: As the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation works to clear its rape kit backlog, an Oklahoma lawmaker will host an interim study on the agency’s progress. Sen. Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City, will host the study. She authored a bill that Gov. Kevin Stitt signed into law in 2019 requiring law enforcement agencies to submit rape kits for testing within 20 days. There were previously no legal requirements in Oklahoma for how long agencies had to retain all rape kits or when they had to test them. The law has since tripled OSBI’s caseload. The agency processes rape kits for much of the state. [The Frontier]

Economy & Business News

Is Hollywood doing fine with Oklahoma?: There’s a moment early in the new Matt Damon drama “Stillwater” that made me both proud and a little disappointed. Damon’s character, Bill, is an unemployed Oklahoma oil-rig worker interviewing for a new job when he mentions my little-known hometown, Shawnee. Exciting! But then he mispronounces it. [New York Times]

General News

Critics air grievances over reinterment of possible Tulsa Race Massacre burials: Members of a public oversight committee took their complaints about Friday’s reinterment of remains exhumed as part of the search for unmarked burials from the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre to the City Council on Wednesday. [Tulsa World]

Greenwood Rising makes ‘spellbinding’ formal opening: Interim Director Phil Armstrong says there have been a lot of days that he wondered if Wednesday would ever come. Not specifically Wednesday, Aug. 4, 2021. Wednesday, the day the Greenwood Rising history center really and truly opened its doors to the public. [Tulsa World] The project had a building and startup budget of $20 million, and has been criticized by high-profile members of the Black community as being an expensive but superficial effort to acknowledge racial disparities while lacking the motor for real change. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Oklahoma Local News

  • Smoky Oklahoma skies the result of wildfires in western US, Canada [The Oklahoman]
  • New Tulsa city employees would receive signing bonuses of $1K-$3K under proposal [Tulsa World] | [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • Tulsa FOP members approve new collective bargaining agreement with the city [Tulsa World]
  • City of Lawton reimposes mask mandate for indoor city facilities [The Lawton Constitution]

Quote of the Day

“Everything has changed now.”

-Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R-Ark.) speaking about his regret in signing a bill this spring that banned state and local mask mandates. Now, he’s asking state leaders to reconsider the ban so local school districts have the flexibility to require masks when children return to the classroom. [CBS News

Number of the Day


Oklahoma has the second-highest COVID-19 test positivity rate in the nation — 20.9% — and ranks eighth for new cases per capita, with about 213 cases per 100,000 residents [Tulsa World]

Policy Note

Carrying Equity in COVID-19 Vaccination Forward: Guidance Informed by Communities of Color: Seven months into the COVID-19 vaccination campaign in the United States, nearly 50% of the American population has been vaccinated. While this is a monumental accomplishment, there is still much work to do. In the coming months, the country will face a series of vaccination challenges including serving groups with persistently low vaccine uptake (due to, for example, low/no access, vaccine hesitancy, or a combination of factors), expanding COVID-19 vaccination to children (particularly those whose parents may be less willing to vaccinate their children than to get vaccinated themselves), and orchestrating a potential booster dose campaign (with its own hesitancy issues). As the COVID-19 vaccination campaign continues, lessons from the vaccine rollout to date can help provide direction moving forward. [Center for Health Security]

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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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