In The Know: State now on third epidemiologist since March | Hospitals suing for unpaid bills examined | More schools move to start virtually

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

As pandemic widens, Oklahoma diminishes state epidemiologist role: The new state epidemiologist who starts work this month will be Oklahoma’s third person in that role since the state’s response to COVID-19 started in March, raising concerns of inconsistent leadership as the role is diminished inside the state health department. [Oklahoma Watch] The State Department of Health confirmed that Oklahoma State University faculty member Jared Taylor will serve as an epidemiology consultant for the department. Interim state epidemiologist Aaron Wendelboe’s contract expired this past Friday. [The Oklahoman]

COVID-19: 377 more cases, one fatal, reported in Oklahoma; 628 hospitalized: State health officials reported 377 new cases of COVID-19 across Oklahoma and an additional death. The death toll for Oklahoma has risen to 551 with 38,602 cases confirmed since March, according to state data. As of Monday, 628 patients are hospitalized, the state reported. [Tulsa World]

  • Oklahoma medical leaders describe strain on providers from increase in COVID-19 hospitalizations [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • COVID-19 cases on the rise in Cherokee Nation [The Oklahoman]

Amid COVID-19 crisis, some Oklahoma hospitals continue suing patients over unpaid bills: A first-of-its-kind review of court records by Oklahoma Watch revealed last year that an average of 520 Oklahomans were sued by a hospital over unpaid medical bills each month from Jan. 1, 2016 to July 31, 2019. Hospitals’ use of the legal system to compel patients to pay their unpaid bills, which has resulted in many low-income workers seeing their wages or bank accounts garnished, has drawn criticism from patient advocates and health officials as the practice has increased across the nation. [Oklahoma Watch]

Education News

More Oklahoma districts starting school year online: As the first day of school draws nearer, Oklahoma school districts are rolling out their plans to educate amid a global pandemic. An increasing number of schools are deciding to start off online as COVID-19 cases continue to climb. [KGOU]

  • Tulsa Public Schools will start school year through distance learning, school board decides [Tulsa World]
  • Jenks Public Schools will start 2020-21 through distance learning, changes first day of school to Aug. 24 [Tulsa World]
  • Putnam City delays first day of virtual schooling [The Oklahoman]
  • Norman Public Schools hears feedback on virtual instruction plan during Monday board meeting [Norman Transcript]
  • Norman schools to have online start; opening day moved back a week [The Oklahoman]
  • Enid Public Schools plans alternate scheduling for start of school [Enid News & Eagle]

In Oklahoma, Epic’s operator refuses to release spending records. In California, records are public: The company that manages Epic Charter Schools in Oklahoma refuses to provide state auditors details about how it spends millions of dollars provided by the state to pay for students’ extra activities. [Oklahoma Watch]

Health News

How ballot initiatives changed the game on Medicaid expansion: Missouri is the latest state where a nonprofit has helped put the issue before voters, bypassing Republican officials. And the vote is today. [New York Times

  • Op-Ed: Good news and bad news about State Question 814: State Question 814 won’t be on the Aug. 25 ballot, and that’s good news. It probably will be on the November ballot, which is also good news. But it’s still up in the air, and that is the bad news. SQ 814 is the logical answer to the how-will-we-pay-for-it question concerning Medicaid expansion. If voters approve it, the state’s Medicaid programs would have a dedicated source of future funding that doesn’t involve a penny in new taxes. [Wayne Greene Column / Tulsa World]

State Government News

Hunter vows to fight inmate challenges stemming from Creek reservation case: Oklahoma Attorney General Mike Hunter vowed Monday to fight attempts by “a flood” of prison inmates to win their release because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that the federal government has jurisdiction over major crimes involving Indians in the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s historic reservation. [The Oklahoman] Owing to the July 9 U.S. Supreme Court decision in McGirt v. Oklahoma — which affirmed that the Muscogee (Creek) Nation’s historic reservation had never been dissolved — criminal jurisdiction concerning tribal citizens under the Major Crimes Act now lies with tribal courts and the federal government across most of eastern Oklahoma. [NonDoc]

How the Supreme Court upended a century of federal Indian law: For tribal citizens, the ruling involves much more than the boundaries of criminal jurisdiction; it constitutes an important victory in the struggle to strengthen tribal sovereignty. Meanwhile, Indigenous plaintiffs are already using the Supreme Court’s decision to bolster legal cases for sovereign and tribal rights. But questions remain about what the decision means for the quality of justice in Indian Country, for Natives and non-Natives. [High Country News]

Speed limits to be raised on interstates in Oklahoma: Within a matter of months, speed limits will be raised to 75 mph on hundreds of miles of Interstates 35 and 40 in Oklahoma. [The Journal Record] The Oklahoma Transportation Commission voted Monday to raise the speed limit to 75 mph on nearly 400 miles of the rural portions of Interstate 35 and Interstate 40. [The Oklahoman]

Federal Government News

Fixing the ‘PACER problem’ means more than a redesign: PACER, a government-run service that provides the public with access to federal electronic court records, has long been criticized for its inefficiencies, outdated interface, missing cases and, according to an ongoing class-action lawsuit, exorbitant fees. [NonDoc]

Criminal Justice News

FOP lawsuit without merit, attorneys for city of Norman say: City of Norman attorneys have asked a court to dismiss claims by Norman’s police union that the city council illegally reduced the Police Department budget. [The Oklahoman]

Economic Opportunity

Navigator program launched to help people find financial answers related to pandemic: A financial navigator program has been started to help Tulsans solve critical financial issues related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The program is a partnership among the Cities for Financial Empowerment Fund, Mayor’s Office of Resilience and Equity and Goodwill Industries of Tulsa. [Tulsa World]

Economy & Business News

States look to federal coronavirus funds to help meatpackers: Missouri and Oklahoma are both trying to help reduce the supply chain problems in the meat industry seen during the coronavirus pandemic by directing federal grant dollars to meatpacking plants. [KOSU]

After missing out on Tesla factory, Oklahoma seeks to lure auto parts suppliers: While Tulsa won’t become the site of Tesla’s next “gigafactory,” the city could attract parts suppliers under a new economic development effort launched Monday by the Oklahoma Department of Commerce. [Tulsa World]

New coal ash disposal rule targeted by environmentalists: Environmentalists are pledging to challenge a just-announced finalized rule issued by the Trump administration that formalizes coal ash pit closure requirements but gives operators of “certain” facilities more time to consider potential alternatives before having to take that step. [The Oklahoman]

General News

Eskimo Joe’s to keep name, logo, cites customer support in survey: Backed by the support of an online survey, Eskimo Joe’s restaurant has decided it will make no changes to its longtime name or logo. The company started the survey recently in response to an online petition calling for an end to people of color being depicted in caricatures and used as mascots, specifically in Eskimo Joe’s and sister restaurant Mexico Joe’s branding. The Eskimo Joe’s logo is a caricature of an Indigenous person from northern North America, and the logo for Mexico Joe’s is a caricature of a man holding a taco and a guitar while wearing a poncho and a sombrero. [Tulsa World]

Oklahoma Local News

  • Tulsa will move forward with removal of ‘Black Lives Matter’ sign on Greenwood pavement [Tulsa World]
  • Nearly $12 million in contracts OK’d for runway at Tulsa International Airport [Tulsa World]
  • Cleveland County courthouse, clerk’s office now require masks [The Oklahoman]
  • Edmond extends mask mandate until Oct. 12, but again fails to pass emergency [The Oklahoman]
  • Yukon mayor says state representative is harassing her over town’s mask mandate [The Oklahoman]
  • City of Muskogee to distribute masks this week [Muskogee Phoenix]
  • Oklahoma Corporation Commission’s Tulsa office moving, not closing [The Journal Record]
  • Oklahoma State University cancels 2020 Homecoming [The Oklahoman]

Quote of the Day

“All the concepts of responding to an infectious disease threat are foundational. You use the same tenets or principles and just tailor them to the particular threat. It’s disheartening to see. It’s like nobody knew that we had been practicing and developing and fine-tuning that public health playbook in Oklahoma for years and years. Then everybody from the governor on down to (former State Health Commissioner) Gary Cox, they just sort of kept it on the shelf and didn’t dust it off.”  

-Former State Epidemiologist Dr. Kristy Bradley, who served as the state epidemiologist for 11 years. [Oklahoma Watch]

Number of the Day

1 in 9

The estimated number of Oklahoma prison inmates infected with hepatitis C as of 2019.

[Source: Oklahoma Department of Corrections]

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Jailing practices appear to fuel coronavirus spread, study says: American jails and prisons, in which large numbers of inmates live together in close quarters, have become COVID-19 hotspots. In fact, one published analysis found that the top 10 biggest clusters of the virus in the U.S. are now in correctional facilities. A new study, however, takes a look at the possible ripple effect these clusters may have in surrounding communities. The findings suggest that short-term cycling of prisoners through local jails for arrest and pretrial procedures may be putting entire cities and states at risk, especially communities of color, according to a new peer-reviewed study in the journal Health Affairs. The research also fuels the ongoing concerns over mass incarceration policies in the nation. [Harvard University]

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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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