In The Know: State expands testing, contact tracing; officials defend virus-related spending; testing remains below benchmarks; 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. Subscribe to In The Know and see past editions.

New from OK Policy

Broadband is more important than ever — here is how Oklahoma can respond (Guest Post: Dr. Brian Whitacre): Individuals and households lacking an internet connection are even more cut off from friends and family during social distancing. A survey of Oklahoma school districts found that 167,000 out of 700,000 students lacked an internet connection at home. Being disconnected – regardless of the reason – has never been a bigger disadvantage. [Dr. Brian Whitacre / OK Policy]

Oklahoma News

State officials expand testing, tracing and defend COVID-19 spending: State officials on Thursday announced increased efforts to test and trace for COVID-19 and defended their spending practices in responding to the pandemic. [Tulsa World] As part of that effort, the state will deploy nine “Caring Vans” to underserved communities in rural and urban parts of the state in an effort to take testing services to the people, said Gary Cox, state commissioner of health. [CNHI via The Ada News] By the end of May, the State of Oklahoma intends to test another 90,000 Oklahomans and have 1,000 people trained to trace the contacts of those diagnosed with COVID-19. Gov. Stitt stood with Cox and defended the Oklahoma State Department of Health’s efforts to obtain and distribute personal protective equipment, such as masks, ventilators and testing supplies. [NonDoc]

Coronavirus tests surge, but still fall short of recommendations: Gov. Kevin Stitt said Tuesday that testing for the deadly virus is up 36% from earlier this month. But an Oklahoma Watch analysis of the testing numbers shows that the state has not met benchmarks recommended by White House officials and some public policy groups for states to safely reopen. Experts say rushing to reopen without adequate testing could risk a second wave of infections in states if they aren’t able to quickly identify and quarantine. [Oklahoma Watch]

COVID-19 has affected almost 275,000 Oklahoma jobs, but governor says unemployment funds are ‘limited’ and pushes return to work: First-time unemployment claims continue to be filed at a rapid pace in Oklahoma, but the total number declined for the third consecutive week. However, the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission said “it’s important for claimants to answer the call to return to work” as businesses begin reopening under Gov. Kevin Stitt’s three-phase plan to restart the economy. [Tulsa World] National Employment Law Project: It is concerning that states are “re-opening” their economies and encouraging workers to go back to work. If shutting off access to unemployment insurance is any motivator behind this decision, it is sure to backfire.

Republican-led states signal they could strip workers’ unemployment benefits if they don’t return to work, sparking fresh safety fears: Iowa, Oklahoma and other states reopening soon amid the coronavirus outbreak are issuing early warnings to their worried workers: Return to your jobs or risk losing unemployment benefits. [Washington Post]

Some businesses reopening, others remain closed: Most businesses in Oklahoma City are allowed to reopen Friday, as the state enters the first phase of a plan to reboot the economy. But it’s not back to business as usual just yet. [The Journal Record] Oklahoma shoppers can return to malls and other stores Friday as stay-at-home orders expire in the state’s biggest cities, putting local governments in line with Gov. Kevin Stitt’s plans for reopening the state’s economy amid the coronavirus pandemic. [AP News] Some Oklahoma businesses remain closed out of fear of being exposed to the coronavirus, despite being allowed to reopen. [AP News]

  • Editorial: State reopens for business but consumers will be the ultimate judges of when it’s safe to come back: It seemed clear to us that (Gov.) Stitt’s rules made it politically and practically impossible for (Tulsa Mayor) Bynum to extend shelter orders in Tulsa. Although Bynum may have thought (with good reason) that it’s too early to reopen society locally, he couldn’t behave as if Tulsa was isolated from the rest of the state. A lot of local businesses now face the same difficult choice. The fact that they legally can go back into limited public operations, doesn’t mean that it will feel safe to do so, and more than one business has made it clear that they won’t reopen. They don’t want the responsibility for exposing their employees and customers to the COVID-19 virus. [Editorial / Tulsa World]

PPE middleman didn’t deliver, still got “finder’s fee”: The state Health Department paid a $56,000 “finder’s fee” last week to a middleman for 2.8 million gloves even though he was unable to secure delivery himself as promised, according to information obtained by The Oklahoman. [The Oklahoman] The State Department of Health will be audited following reports from The Oklahoman about the extreme steps state officials have been willing to take to find N95 masks and other equipment during the coronavirus crisis. [The Oklahoman]

COVID-19: Eight more die from the disease, 145 more confirmed infected in Oklahoma as cases rise to 3,618: Eight more Oklahomans, all older than 50, have died from COVID-19, according to the Oklahoma State Department of Health. State health officials reported the additional deaths Thursday. There have been 222 deaths due to COVID-19 since March 19. [Tulsa World] Visit for the latest COVID-19 numbers in Oklahoma.

Health News

As Oklahoma starts to reopen its economy, here’s what health experts say the state needs to do: As Oklahoma enters the first phase to reopen shuttered businesses and send some people back to work on Friday, officials and health experts say the state must ramp up testing, tracing and isolation efforts to lower the risk of coronavirus flare-ups. [The Frontier]

Editorial: Pandemic helping push telemedicine to the fore: In one of his recent columns for The Oklahoman, Scott Meacham, CEO and president of Oklahoma City-based i2E Inc., touched on one of the results from the COVID-19 pandemic. “Whole industries are changing before our eyes,” Meacham wrote. “Physicians and insurers who may have been reluctant before are embracing the touch and efficiency of telemedicine.” That’s putting it mildly — and it’s likely to be something that continues long after this coronavirus is behind us. [Editorial / The Oklahoman]

State Government News

Lawmakers expect state revenue outlook will improve: The reopening of Oklahoma businesses and infusions of federal relief funding should help offset some of the impact of major revenue declines projected as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic and steep losses in the energy industry, several senior state lawmakers said. [The Journal Record]

Oklahoma attorneys respond to absentee voting lawsuit: Attorneys for the state of Oklahoma responded to a lawsuit filed last week that seeks to make it easier to vote by mail, saying changing absentee voter requirements would jeopardize the security and integrity of the state’s elections. [AP News]

Health Department Audit, Federal Unemployment Checks, State Lawmakers Return & More (Audio): The latest episode of This Week in Oklahoma Politics discusses State Attorney General Mike Hunter calling for an audit of the Department of Health and cities follow quickly behind the state after Governor Stitt announced plans to reopen Oklahoma for business. [KOSU]

Home health care workers struggle to find PPE: Those who work in the home health care field in Muskogee have a different kind of battle lately involving COVID-19. At least two agencies in Muskogee said they had trouble with getting the necessary supplies they need before entering a home to treat a patient. [Muskogee Phoenix]

Editorial: Good news and bad in Oklahoma’s pandemic response: The COVID-19 pandemic has left states scrambling to obtain facemasks and other items needed to protect health care workers. In Oklahoma, these efforts have at times been disconcerting enough that now an investigation is pending. Efforts on the testing front, meantime, are more assuring. [Editorial / The Oklahoman

Economic Opportunity

Unemployment rate continues to climb: Numbers of people initially filing for unemployment insurance benefits week-to-week continues to decline, data reported by the U.S. Department of Labor showed Thursday. However, the nation’s unemployment rate climbed to a record 12.4% in mid-April, given that a record number of idled workers are receiving unemployment through state and federal programs through continuing claims. [The Oklahoman]

Some face hard choices on return to work: Some of the millions of American workers laid off because of the coronavirus are beginning to face a tough choice — return to work and risk infection, or stay home and risk losing unemployment payments. The decision is most pressing in states where governors have started allowing businesses such as restaurants to reopen with social-distancing restrictions. [AP News]

‘Mass evictions’ on the horizon as US confronts coronavirus housing crisis: Oklahoma is one of eight states that have not implemented any statewide orders that would suspend evictions and foreclosures during the pandemic. [ABC News] OK Policy: Policymakers must do more to prevent evictions and foreclosures during and after the COVID-19 crisis. Our Open Justice Oklahoma program created a real-time evictions and foreclosures court tracker, which shows there have been 1,395 evictions and 159 foreclosures filed since March 15 when the state declared a state of emergency due to the pandemic. Groups in Oklahoma are calling the state to issue or expand statewide moratoria against evictions and utility shut-offs and commit to preventing mass evictions. 

Economy & Business News

Legal protection?: ‘Lots of lawsuits’ loom as Oklahoma businesses prepare to reopen: Oklahoma businesses could face lawsuits filed by customers claiming they contracted COVID-19 while in their restaurants, bars or showrooms, forcing court cases that could cost tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees. [The Journal Record]

Oklahoma’s oil industry could face ‘worst case scenario’ (Audio): Oil prices have stabilized after an unprecedented plunge last week, but economists are still forecasting a grim scenario for Oklahoma, which relies heavily on the oil and gas industry. Journal Record editor Russell Ray discusses last week’s negative oil contract prices, as well as what measure the state is considering to mitigate the problem. [KGOU

Corporation Commission considers changes to oil storage rules: The Oklahoma Corporation Commission is considering changes to the state’s oil and gas storage regulations in response to interest from brokers looking to build storage to keep crude oil bought at low prices due to COVID-19 demand destruction and oversupply, with plans to sell it when prices increase. [The Journal Record]

Education News

Hofmeister wants governor’s funds to focus on ‘digital divide’ in rural Oklahoma: Gov. Kevin Stitt will have nearly $40 million in emergency education stimulus funds to spend in the coming months and the state Department of Education would like him to focus on closing the digital divide, especially in rural communities. [The Frontier] OK Policy: Oklahoma needs to account for all students as schools move to distance learning.

Hofmeister’s recommendation for federal emergency education money does not include Stitt’s idea for private school scholarships: Gov. Stitt made waves among public school parents and educators a couple of weeks ago when he stated publicly that he was considering directing some federal emergency funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act to a state voucher program for private schools that is usually funded by tax credits. [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma schools adjust grade expectations in era of distance learning: This year, that end of the semester dash is made even more complicated as schools across Oklahoma are completing the academic year remotely. The closure of school buildings in response to the coronavirus pandemic means makeup assignments and extra credit opportunities have to be completed at home. [The Frontier]

Republican lawmakers call on State Department of Education to protect four-day school weeks: A group of rural Oklahoma lawmakers are asking the State Department of Education to reconsider rules they say would end four-day school weeks. The 16 Republican representatives are calling on the state to make a waiver that would allow for shorter school calendars more attainable. [StateImpact Oklahoma]

Oklahoma Local News

  • Mayor revises OKC emergency orders effective Friday [The Oklahoman]
  • With city furloughs looming, elected officials in Tulsa grapple with how, and whether, to participate [Tulsa World]
  • Tulsa restaurants may reopen Friday under strict COVID-19 preventative guidelines [Tulsa World]
  • Virus restrictions lift, but most — not all — Tulsa restaurants say dining rooms will remain closed [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • Appellate court: City of Owasso ordered to turn over investigative report kept from public [Tulsa World]
  • El Reno announces layoffs, furloughs [The Oklahoman]
  • 2 new COVID-19 cases in Garfield County; state up by 145, OSDH reports [Enid News & Eagle]
  • Mayor signs new declaration allowing some businesses to reopen [Enid News & Eagle]
  • OSDH: State sees 3% rise in COVID-19 cases, none in Northwest Oklahoma [Enid News & Eagle]
  • Northeast Health System proceeding cautiously with elective surgeries [Enid News & Eagle]
  • Wagoner County man latest COVID-19 victim [Stillwater News Press]
  • One recovery added for Stephens County in COVID-19 cases [Stillwater News Press]
  • OSDH reports second COVID-19 death in Grady County [Stillwater News Press]
  • Second Chickasha resident dies from COVID-19 [The Express-Star]
  • McAlester nursing home reports COVID-19 case [McAlester News-Capital]
  • Pittsburg County Health Department explains reopening guidelines [McAlester News-Capital]

Quote of the Day

“It’s a little terrifying, to be honest. I work for myself, I go to peoples’ homes. … I don’t think we’re ready to reopen.”

-Syd Lowery, a Norman massage therapist who noted that her line of work is “the opposite of social distancing” [The Journal Record]

Number of the Day


The current number of contact tracers per 100,000 who track the virus’ path through Oklahoma. This is well below the National Association of County and City Health Officials recently stated position there should be 15 contact tracers per 100,000 people in a nonemergency situation and 30 tracers per 100,000 people during a pandemic.

[Source: The Frontier]

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

New data shows more Americans are having trouble paying their rent: With nearly 10 million Americans filing for unemployment in March, April 1 was always going to be a difficult day for US renters. Now we have an idea of just how difficult: Nearly a third of 13.4 million US renters, 31%, didn’t pay their rent between April 1 and April 5. The federal government’s $2 trillion stimulus bill will pad some Americans’ falls, but most rental properties are owned by private landlords and therefore aren’t eligible. [CNN]

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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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