In The Know: State COVID death rate jumps to 5th | School mask ban on hold | Celebrating working Oklahomans

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: Celebrating labor this weekend and beyond: Our state motto (“Labor omnia vincit”) celebrates work, but too many state policies affecting working Oklahomans are misaligned with those values. Our state asks working folks to pay an outsized share of taxes, forces them to make unconscionable decisions when they need to care for themselves or their families, and sets the minimum wage too low for anyone to support a family. We can – and should – do better by working Oklahomans. [Ahniwake Rose / OK Policy]

Oklahoma News

COVID-19: Oklahoma jumps to No. 5 for death rate amid ICU strain, higher ‘dwell time’ in hospitals: With ICU beds now occupied at a near-record rate and the state now at No. 5 in the U.S. for COVID death rate, health leaders are trying to help Oklahomans understand the impact these more-serious cases are having on hospitals. Dr. Dale Bratzler, OU’s chief COVID officer, noted Wednesday that almost a third of COVID-19 hospital patients are in intensive care units. The 441 people in ICUs out of 1,566 COVID hospital patients is a high for the latest surge and only 64 behind the record 505 reported Dec. 30. [Tulsa World]

  • ‘High concentrations’ of COVID-19 found in Oklahoma wastewater suggest virus spread won’t slow soon [Tulsa World]
  • COVID-19 in Oklahoma tracker: Daily updates on new cases, deaths, vaccines for September 2021 [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma’s Ban on School Mask Mandates is on Hold. Here’s What You Need to Know: Oklahoma’s law preventing schools from mandating masks is temporarily on hold due to a judge’s ruling Wednesday morning. That means school districts can move forward with a mask requirement on school campuses potentially later this week or early next week, as long as the mandate gives parents the ability to opt out. Some districts, like Oklahoma City Public Schools and Santa Fe South charter school, already require masks with an opt-out provision where parents can fill out a form to request an exemption for their child to attend school without a mask for a personal, religious or medical reason. [Oklahoma Watch] Judge Natalie Mai said she will issue a temporary injunction that will go into effect next week when she issues a written order detailing her ruling. Mai said she is blocking the law because it applies only to public, not private, schools and that schools adopting a mask mandate must provide an option for parents or students to opt out of the requirement. [AP News] The Oklahoma State Medical Association applauded the injunction. The doctors’ member organization is one of the lead plaintiffs in a suit filed against the state of Oklahoma over the ban on mask mandates in schools. [KOSU]

  • Area school districts: No immediate changes after court ruling on school masks [Tulsa World]
  • An Oklahoma teacher shares her battle with the coronavirus (audio) [StateImpact Oklahoma]
  • COVID cases at Enid schools, in county at similar levels to last year’s [Enid News & Eagle]

In rural Oklahoma, suspicions run high while vaccination rates stay low: Nurse practitioner Janey Hammons’ office on Main Street in the town of Seiling is one of the few places where residents can get the COVID-19 vaccine in Dewey County. The farming community of about 800 people hugs U.S. Route 270 between Watonga and Woodward in western Oklahoma. Hammons’ practice has been able to vaccinate between 60 and 70 people in the community, but worries about what Dewey County’s low rates of vaccine uptake will mean for new cases of COVID-19 this winter as the delta variant of the virus spreads across the state. [The Frontier]

  • Tulsa offers employees $250 stipend for virus vaccination [AP News] | [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • Oklahomans We’ve Lost: A war veteran who loved trucks, hunting and his daughter [The Frontier]

Health News

‘We need to get rid of the stigma.’ Grieving families gather for OKC vigil on overdose awareness day: With drug overdose deaths on the rise in Oklahoma and across the nation, loved ones of those lost to addiction are leaning on one another for support while calling on lawmakers to increase treatment options and continue lessening the stigma through criminal justice reform. [The Oklahoman]

New Texas abortion law increasing clients at OKC clinic, provider says: At least one Oklahoma abortion provider says it already has seen the impact of a new Texas law that went into effect Wednesday that severely restricts abortions in that state. Trust Women, a clinic with locations in Oklahoma City and Wichita, Kansas, has reported seeing an increase in patients in the weeks leading up to the law’s enactment and are expecting to see growth in out-of-state clientele continue. [The Oklahoman]

State Government News

Study: Expunged records, jobs can reduce crime: Expunging the record of certain criminal offenders would actually reduce crime and bolster the state’s workforce, according to the experts who spoke during an interim study meeting at the Oklahoma Capitol on Tuesday. Criminal records may bar individuals from employment, housing, credit and other resources, making them actually more likely to seek income through crime, the experts found. The current workforce shortage could be remedied by making use of skilled, committed workers currently being passed over for jobs due to their criminal record. The American Rescue Plan Act includes funding for workforce development that could be used to implement a system that would automatically expunge the records of qualifying individuals, said Damion Shade of the Oklahoma Policy Institute. [The Journal Record]

With Medicaid Expansion Costs Covered By Other Funds, Health Care Authority Saving $164M From State: The Oklahoma Health Care Authority has not touched $164 million lawmakers appropriated to pay for the state’s 10% share of the program’s costs. OHCA CEO Kevin Corbett told lawmakers this week federal virus relief funds and savings from shifting thousands of people from fully state-funded coverage to the expanded Medicaid program are enough to cover costs right now. Around 65,000 people with health coverage through entirely state-funded programs qualified for insurance under Medicaid expansion. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Oklahoma DHS moving all offices to appointment only: All visits to Oklahoma Department of Human Services offices now are by appointment only to protect the health and safety of the agency’s customers and workforce. Scheduling appointments will allow OKDHS to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 by screening for symptoms and also will allow staff to help serve customers via phone, if possible, according to a OKDHS news release. [Enid News & Eagle]

Federal Government News

Markwayne Mullin headed home after attempt to enter Afghanistan: U.S. Rep. Markwayne Mullin reported he is safe and headed home after reports that he made a second attempt to gain entry to Afghanistan. In an Instagram post, Mullin said he was never missing but that he did “go dark for a little” because it “wasn’t safe to be communicating.” He said he has been helping Americans exit Afghanistan and that the mission is ongoing. [Gaylord News / NonDoc] The message came after The Washington Post reported on Tuesday night that Mullin had been in the region and argued with U.S. State Department personnel over his plans to get into Afghanistan. [The Oklahoman]

Federal funding bill assures Lawton airport of multi-year funding: Lawton-Fort Sill Regional Airport has been assured of three years worth of funding under a recently approved U.S. Department of Transportation funding bill for 2021. U.S. Fourth District Congressman Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, said Wednesday Lawton-Fort Sill Regional Airport will receive more than $3 million in multi-year grant funding, money that will be dedicated to a terminal renovation project already under way at the airport. [The Lawton Constitution]

Tribal Nations News

Oklahoma court reverses itself in four death penalty cases: Citing its recent decision to narrow the cases from Indian reservations that can be appealed, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals on Tuesday reversed rulings that would have freed four death row inmates from state custody. In brief orders, the court withdrew its own opinions and vacated the judgments it previously rendered in regard to Shaun Michael Bosse, Miles Sterling Bench, James Chandler Ryder and Benjamin Robert Cole. [The Oklahoman] Oklahoma is fighting to overturn the Supreme Court’s McGirt ruling through the Bosse case. [McAlester News Capital]

Criminal Justice News

Oklahoma board sets dates for high-profile death-row inmates: The Oklahoma Pardon and Parole Board has set tentative dates for clemency hearings for high-profile death row inmate Julius Jones and five others who have exhausted their legal appeals. The clemency hearings for the inmates would take place 21 days before their scheduled executions, according to The Oklahoman. [AP News]

Economic Opportunity

‘Built for this community’: New Homeland opens in northeast OKC: People flooded the new Homeland store Wednesday to celebrate the opening day of the first full-sized supermarket in northeast Oklahoma City since 2019. The neighboring 73111 ZIP code, which features a predominantly Black population, is noted as a food desert by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Many eating options in the area involve fast food or corner stores, which typically have fewer healthy choices. Only those who could afford to could go miles away for another grocery store. [NonDoc] Every speaker at the formal opening and those who talked to Free Press afterward showed an unusual level of emotion for the opening of a grocery store. [OKC Free Press]

The eviction moratorium has ended. Here’s what to do if you’re an Oklahoman in need: Oklahomans facing eviction in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to end the federal eviction moratorium on Aug. 26 have several local agencies they can turn to for assistance. The moratorium was thrown out after offering months of protection, opening the door for a wave of evictions that could result in a rise in homelessness. Local agencies have help available at every phase of the process with options for rental and utility assistance, shelter and rehousing assistance. [The Oklahoman]

Economy & Business News

For Farmers In Dry Regions Like Oklahoma And Kansas, Cover Crops May Not Be Worth The Water: Jimmy Emmons has all sorts of things growing in his fields in Leedey, Oklahoma. There’s peas, beans, millets and varieties of grain sorghum, but none of it is for harvest. He’s growing what’s known as cover crops — plants meant to cover the ground and preserve it. Over the past seven years, he says he’s watched the difference in the soil. He’s often carrying a shovel on his fields, looking and even smelling the dirt. “Smells real earthy and sweet,” Emmons says. [KOSU]

Education News

Oklahoma Starts Year With Its Most Emergency Teachers On Record: There are more than 2,600 emergency certified teachers approved to work in Oklahoma public school classrooms across the state, according to state data. The state Board of Education has approved 2,673 emergency teaching certificates for the current school year — 390 in June and 2,283 since July 1. [Oklahoma Watch]

Quote of the Day

“I believe that government itself should not be in the business of erecting barriers to people getting on with their lives and being productive members of society.”

-State Rep. Nicole Miller, R-Edmond, introducing an interim session this week looking at how expunging records of certain criminal offenders would actually reduce crime and bolster the state’s workforce [Journal Record]

Number of the Day


During the first two weeks after release, the risk of death among former inmates was 12.7 times that among other state residents, with a markedly elevated relative risk of death from drug overdose. The leading causes of death among former inmates were drug overdose, cardiovascular disease, homicide, and suicide. [New England Journal of Medicine]

Policy Note

An Equitable Recovery Needs Investments in Connecting People Leaving Jail or Prison to Health Care: People who are incarcerated have higher rates of mental illness, substance use disorders, and chronic physical health conditions, but they often go without needed health care while incarcerated and return home without adequate access to medications or care coordination. Investments in broadening access to quality health care for people leaving jail and prison — in addition to funding for subsidized employment and housing vouchers — can help avoid reincarceration and promote equity. [CBPP]

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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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