In The Know: State among nation’s worst in two virus metrics | Survey shows teachers ‘overwhelmed’ | Virus spiking in prisons

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

(Capitol Update) Leadership requires courage to make a better future for Oklahoma: Former House Speaker Glen Johnson used to joke about going to visit a House member who was in the hospital. He told the sick legislator that the House had voted to send best wishes for a speedy and complete recovery — by a vote of 51 to 50. The story reminds me of the June 30 vote to expand Medicaid in Oklahoma. After monumental efforts by Oklahoma’s medical community and a variety of organizations and citizens, Medicaid expansion passed by a vote of 50.4 percent. But it did pass, and legislative leaders have committed to fund the state match for the health care program. The cost is predicted at about $100 to $150 million to match the federal funding of about $1 billion. [Steve Lewis / OK Policy]

We’re hiring for a Child Well-Being Policy Analyst / KIDS COUNT Coordinator: OK Policy is now hiring for a Child Well-Being Policy Analyst / KIDS COUNT Coordinator. The Policy Analyst / KIDS COUNT Coordinator conducts research, analysis, and advocacy on state policy issues related to the well-being of Oklahoma children and families, particularly as it relates to financial stability and race equity. This position is also responsible for coordinating their work on child well-being within the KIDS COUNT program. Click here to learn more and apply. 

Oklahoma News

Oklahoma is top 10 in two of four White House COVID-19 metrics as federal government publishes new data: COVID-19 is the worst it’s ever been in the U.S., and Oklahoma is top 10 in two of the four metrics gauging how poorly states are fairing, according to the latest report published by the White House Coronavirus Task Force. Oklahoma ranks No. 3 for test positivity rate, No. 7 for weekly new COVID-19 hospitalizations per inpatient bed, No. 21 for weekly new confirmed cases per capita and No. 33 in weekly new deaths per capita. [Tulsa World] The State of Oklahoma has not released last week’s White House Coronavirus Task Force Report, claiming that they have not yet received it. However, The Transcript obtained the report from Dec. 13 via The Center For Public Integrity, who posted it Monday afternoon. [The Norman Transcript]

  • Stillwater Medical Center expands ER, repurposes conference room for patients [Stillwater News Press]
  • COVID-19: State reporting record average of new COVID-19 cases per day; more than 1,600 hospitalized [Tulsa World]
  • OSDH: All 77 counties remain in ‘orange’ risk level as Oklahoma COVID-19 cases, deaths rise [Enid News & Eagle]
  • CVS Health begins doling out COVID-19 vaccines at skilled nursing, assisted living facilities across the country [Tulsa World]
  • Skepticism to COVID-19 vaccine remains strong in state [CNHI via Enid News & Eagle]
  • Choctaw Nation releases initial COVID-19 vaccination plan [McAlester News Capital]
  • Holiday card campaign promotes mask mandate [The Oklahoman]
  • Muskogee physician dies due to COVID-19 complications [Muskogee Phoenix]
  • Editorial: Broken Arrow city, school leaders continue to fall short of protecting public health [Editorial / Tulsa World]

Survey: Oklahoma educators ‘overwhelmed’ and ‘scared’: In a recent survey, the Oklahoma Education Association asked more than 3,100 teachers, support professionals and administrators to use one word to describe their current feelings about their job. Words like “stressed,” “overwhelmed,” and “scared” landed in the top 10. [NonDoc] More than a majority of those completing the survey said in-person learning is currently not safe. [Tulsa World] Just 4% believed the worst of the pandemic is behind them. [Public Radio Tulsa] They also have little trust in leadership. About three-quarters say they don’t have confidence in Governor Kevin Stitt’s COVID-response and half don’t trust their own district’s boards and administrators. [StateImpact Oklahoma] The head of Oklahoma’s largest teachers union praised Gov. Kevin Stitt on Monday for moving school personnel to phase two of the vaccine distribution plan, but she warned the governor that forcing schools to return to in-person learning next month could jeopardize the safety of public school workers. [AP News

COVID-19 spikes follow in prisons after inmate transfers: Oklahoma’s prisons reported relatively few cases of COVID-19 until state officials closed several units because of budget cuts, transferring more than 4,500 prisoners between facilities from late July to September. Major outbreaks followed, with more than 5,800 prisoners testing positive and at least 33 dying from the virus. [AP News and The Marshall Project] OK Policy: The COVID-19 crisis in Oklahoma prisons is a moral emergency requiring urgent action to better protect vulnerable inmates, staff, and surrounding communities. 

Health News

Uncertain funding casts dire outlook for nursing homes: Two-thirds of nursing homes in the United States will not financially survive another year due to increased COVID-19 costs and challenges with staffing, according to a new survey, and Oklahoma nursing homes and care facilities are feeling those same challenges. [The Journal Record]

State & Local Government News

Oklahoma Supreme Court asked to ignore “scare tactic” in opioid case: The Oklahoma Supreme Court is being asked to ignore a “hollow” claim that upholding the $465 million verdict in a landmark opioid case will drive businesses out of the state. Harold Hamm, Bob Howard and Gene Rainbolt were joined in the friend-of-the-court brief by the University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University and the Oklahoma State Regents for Higher Education. [The Oklahoman]

Sen. George Young files legislation to increase Oklahoma minimum wage: Senate Bill 161 would require employers to pay their employees a minimum wage of $10.50 per hour, or match the federal minimum wage rate, whichever is greater. Oklahoma’s current minimum wage is $7.25 per hour, which is equal to the federal minimum wage. [The Oklahoma Eagle]

Commissioners allocate CARES Act funds to small business relief: The Oklahoma County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) met Monday for the final time in 2020. The Board voted to allocate $5,050,000 to the Oklahoma Industries Authority to continue a small business relief program, and to fund testing for Oklahoma City-County Health Department (OCCHD). [OKC Free Press]

Oklahoma agency fails to compile data, publish poultry waste summary: Water conservationists expressed dissatisfaction with a state agency’s decision to ditch the compilation and publication of an annual report that tracks the phosphorus-laden waste produced by poultry feeding operations. [Muskogee Phoenix]

Federal Government News

COVID-19 relief bill clarifies PPP loans: Congress clarified some of the confusion regarding Paycheck Protection Plan loans with the $900 billion COVID-19 economic relief package agreed to on Sunday. The new legislation contradicts the IRS’ earlier interpretation that businesses would not be allowed to deduct for expenses paid with forgiven PPP dollars. The measure also provides millions more in relief funding for small businesses, including performance venues. [The Journal Record]

Unemployment benefits face delays for millions even with COVID-19 relief package: Even though Congress struck a COVID-19 stimulus deal late Sunday to extend badly needed financial relief to millions of jobless Americans, some could see their unemployment benefits lapse since it may take weeks for aid to reach them due to outdated state systems, experts say. [USA Today / The Oklahoman]

President declares disaster after October ice storm: President Donald Trump officially declared a federal disaster on Monday for 13 Oklahoma counties battered by a late October ice storm. [AP News] The declaration makes available federal matching funds for state, tribal, and local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations for emergency work and the repair or replacement of facilities and infrastructure damaged. [Tulsa World] The multi-day storm resulted in an estimated $27 million in debris removal and other damages in the 13 counties designated for aid, according to the governor’s office. [The Oklahoman]

Criminal Justice News

Judge orders second man in Ada’s ‘Innocent Man’ case freed, state to appeal: An Oklahoma judge has ordered the second defendant in Ada’s so-called “Innocent Man” murder case to be immediately freed after spending 35 years in prison and excoriating investigators and prosecutors for withholding favorable evidence from his defense team for decades. [The Frontier] Ward, along with Karl Fontenot, was convicted in the 1984 disappearance and murder of Ada resident Donna Denice Haraway. [Southwest Ledger]

Investigation underway into Oklahoma County jail death: An inmate died Sunday morning at the Oklahoma County jail, one day after reportedly getting hurt during an altercation with a cellmate. [The Oklahoman]

  • Oklahoma County Criminal Justice Authority (Jail Trust) approves Jail phone services upgrade for detainees and families [OKC Free Press]

Dedicated entry for police with individuals in crisis added to Tulsa urgent psychiatric care center: A 24/7 psychiatric care center in Tulsa has added a dedicated police entry port and treatment beds to help law enforcement get people in crisis to appropriate help faster. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Economic Opportunity

‘This is impressive and it should be’: Osage Nation aims to eliminate food desert with state-of-the-art facility: The Osage Nation on Monday displayed how it spent about $13 million, dedicating facilities aimed at providing food security for the tribe. Unveiled were a 42,000-square-foot greenhouse and a 44,000-square-foot programs building, which includes aquaponics and food processing areas. [Tulsa World]

New City Care shelter to help rising numbers of homeless in Oklahoma City: The number of people experiencing unsheltered homelessness in Oklahoma City has nearly doubled since 2016, according to the city’s Point-In-Time count, and providers have struggled to keep up. [The Oklahoman]

Providers using new tech platform for those in need: Using online technology, Oklahoma County nonprofit and government service providers are taking a step to make sure there are “no wrong doors” for those seeking social, education and employment services in the county. [The Journal Record]

Economy & Business News

Another Oklahoma energy company is exiting the business, but not how you might think: On Monday, Blueknight Energy Partners announced before markets opened it has made multiple deals to sell its crude oil storage, pipeline and trucking businesses for $162 million. After the deals close, the company primarily will exist as an asphalt terminalling business, which acquires the product and then sells it to companies who use it to build parking lots, roads and highways. [The Oklahoman] Net proceeds, after transaction costs, will be used immediately to reduce borrowings outstanding under the partnership’s revolving credit facility and for general partnership purposes. [Tulsa World]

Education News

Norman Public Schools data shows disparity between student, teacher diversity: As Norman Public Schools’ student body has grown significantly more diverse over the last few years, gaining more students of color, the demographics of its faculty, staff and administrators have stood still, numbers from the district show. [The Norman Transcript]

State auditor details Epic findings during Enid visit: At Stride Bank Center Ballroom, State Auditor and Inspector Cindy Byrd provided information about what the State Auditor and Inspector’s Office does, the different types of audits it conducts and how it conducts its business and her audit into Epic Charter Schools. [Enid News & Eagle]

General News

Tulsa Race Massacre teacher training to be offered: The application deadline is Feb. 1 for a statewide teacher professional development program sponsored by the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot Centennial Commission. Weekly online courses will be taught March 24-May 25 with a national day of learning scheduled June 3. [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma Local News

Quote of the Day

“(The percentage of teachers who have contracted COVID-19) is higher than the general population, and … that’s about the same rate as medical professionals on the frontline.”

-Alicia Priest, President of the Oklahoma Education Association [NonDoc]  

Number of the Day


Percentage of teachers who said they are “very confident” the state would provide necessary safety measures for in-person classes, according to a recent Oklahoma Education Association survey. More than 80 percent said they’re not confident about safety measures for in-person classes. [NonDoc]

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

CDC: Here’s How Much It Would Cost Schools to Safeguard Against COVID-19: Strategies to help schools minimize the risk of coronavirus transmission would on average cost between $55 and $442 per student, depending on what measures are used, according to a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The cost estimates of COVID-19 mitigation strategies cover a range of expenses for K-12 public schools. These include no-touch thermometers, student desk shields, and face shields for school staff. Hiring additional custodians is also factored into the estimates. The $55 per-student estimate would cover only materials and “consumables” (think hand sanitizer), while the $442 estimate covers those costs, but also more staff and transportation costs. [Education Week]

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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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