In The Know: State ranks 18th on COVID-19 death rate; hospitals may reach capacity by mid-April; 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

(Capitol Update) Legislature should focus on budget and pandemic: There is little to nothing to report this week on legislative activity. Appropriations and budget leaders are still putting together a FY 2021 budget for consideration when the legislature is able to return for a vote — or, in the case of the House, to vote by proxy. It’s difficult to imagine, for the moment, how they can craft a budget without sound numbers on how much money is available to appropriate. No doubt the amount of money certified for appropriation in February is off the table since the coronavirus outbreak. [Steve Lewis / Capitol Update]

Oklahoma News

Oklahoma ranks 18th in nation in rate of Coronavirus deaths: With a surge in COVID-19 deaths since last week, Oklahoma now ranks 18th highest in the nation in the rate of coronavirus deaths. Taking population into account, deaths were highest in New York, with 6.3 deaths per 100,000 residents according to data from the COVID Tracking Project and U.S. Census Bureau. Oklahoma ranked 18th with 0.43 deaths per 100,000 residents. [Oklahoma Watch] Interactive maps: Known cases of COVID-19 in Oklahoma. [The Frontier] Charting the coronavirus pandemic state by state [Vox]

COVID-19 might overwhelm state by mid-April, doctor says. Hospitals try to reuse protective gear, plan retrofits for other machines to be ventilators: Hospitals are finding innovative ways to re-use personal protective equipment and convert other medical machines into ventilators in preparation for a potential surge of coronavirus patients by mid- to late April. [Tulsa World] Researchers believe the peak of the coronavirus outbreak in Oklahoma will hit around April 17th. [KOSU]

Oklahoma attorney general, governor: ‘Consider which offenses necessitate detention’ during COVID-19 pandemic: Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt and Attorney General Mike Hunter released guidance Monday encouraging law enforcement to avoid transporting low-level arrestees to detention facilities as a step in mitigating the risk of exposure to COVID-19. Hunter and Stitt said the guidance, termed “best practices,” should not be seen as a signal for “the release of dangerous criminals from jail.” [Tulsa World] The guidelines address four main areas of potential exposure — an arrest, the transfer of inmates, management of current jail and prison populations, and staff screening. [The Oklahoman] A coalition of Oklahoma groups, including OK Policy, have proposed 10 steps for lawmakers and officials to address the spread of COVID-19 in prisons and jails

52 new cases, another death reported as 47 counties in Oklahoma affected: Oklahoma has 481 cases of COVID-19, and officials reported another fatality from the condition caused by the novel coronavirus. State health officials reported 52 new cases Monday. Just a week ago, health officials had only detected 83 cases in Oklahoma. [Tulsa World] The latest death was a man ages 50 to 64 from Cleveland County. This is the sixth death in the county, making Cleveland County the county with the most coronavirus-related deaths in the state. [NewsOn6] Interactive COVID-19 map [The Frontier]

COVID-19 Podcasts: 

  • The Frontier, March 30 (Audio): Host Ben Felder and Frontier reporter Kassie McClung speak with Dr. Kasey Shrum, the Secretary of Science and Innovation, and Elizabeth Pollard, Deputy State Secretary of Science and Innovation, about their work on Gov. Kevin Stitt’s coronavirus task force. [The Frontier]
  • The Oklahoman, March 30 (Audio): Oklahoma City and Tulsa join the list of major metropolitan cities sheltering in place, health experts explain why social distancing works and nonprofits team up to respond to the health crisis. [The Oklahoman]

State Government News

‘It’s going to be tough’: State’s revenue taking huge hit by low oil prices: With oil prices plunging, Oklahoma is losing $27 million per month compared to five weeks ago in energy production taxes alone, an expert said. “It’s going to be tough,” said Tom Seng, director of the School of Energy Economics, Policy and Commerce at the University of Tulsa. [Tulsa World]

Unofficial tally puts the number of Oklahomans who filed initial claims for unemployment insurance at 45,000 last week: About 45,000 Oklahomans applied for unemployment compensation during the week ending March 28. That preliminary estimate was provided Monday by Robin Roberson, executive director of the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission. Roberson stressed the estimate is an unofficial tally of claims. [The Oklahoman]

New rules in place for Oklahomans filing for unemployment insurance: The pandemic has caused the agency to adopt new rules, including waiving the work search and registration requirements, as well as the waiting period for any claim filed with an effective date of March 15. Polly says these requirements are only in effect as long as Governor Kevin Stitt’s executive order remains active. [KOSU]

Brandt Vawter leaves Commissioners of the Land Office: Brandt Vawter, the acting secretary for the Commissioners of the Land Office who lacked a statutorily required credential for the position, has resigned. In a March 20 letter to Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt, Vawter offered his “best wishes” to the Commissioners of the Land Office, which oversees more than $2 billion worth of oil and gas leases, agricultural land and commercial assets that help fund common education. [NonDoc]

Federal Government News

U.S. Rep. Kendra Horn concerned about hospital finances, medical supplies: U.S. Rep. Kendra Horn said Monday she was frustrated that huge funding packages haven’t resolved shortages of critical medical supplies and expressed concern that metro and rural areas lack sufficient health care professionals necessary to deal with COVID-19. [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma to receive $1.25B in relief: Cities and states battered financially by the COVID-19 pandemic will get some help under terms of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, the approximately $2.2 trillion relief package passed by Congress and signed into law last week by President Donald Trump. [The Journal Record] The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities has estimated Oklahoma is expected to receive about $1.534 billion in stimulus funds.

Health News

Infectious disease expert estimates 5,000 Oklahomans infected with COVID-19: The number of Oklahomans who have tested positive for the coronavirus rose to 481 Monday, but the total number of Oklahomans who have been infected is likely closer to 5,000, an infectious disease expert at OU Medicine said Monday. [The Oklahoman]

Corps of Engineers preps for possible alternate care facilities if Oklahoma hospitals get overwhelmed: At the behest of state and federal officials, Tulsa District staff with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers are evaluating existing sites across Oklahoma that could be converted into alternate care facilities during a COVID-19 health crisis. [Tulsa World] OU Medicine will provide mobile emergency rooms to treat coronavirus patients. [OU Daily]

Lab offers drive-up COVID-19 testing in Tulsa for people who can’t get a state test: If you have money to spare, you can get a COVID-19 test from a private lab now offering them in Tulsa without meeting state requirements like being over 60 or having a compromised immune system. [Public Radio Tulsa] Medical test maker adds unit to analyze coronavirus tests for Oklahoma medical providers. [The Oklahoman]

Dr. Jim Tomasek: OUHSC pursuing COVID-19 vaccine: In Oklahoma, hopes for a COVID-19 vaccine are no different, and researchers at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center are preparing to start a COVID-19 vaccine project in April. [NonDoc] High-tech equipment to conduct thousands of coronavirus tests a day at OU Health Sciences Center. [KFOR]

Ascension St. John running clinical trial of treatment for lung damage from COVID-19: Ascension St. John is running Oklahoma’s first clinical trial for COVID-19 treatment. They’ll be giving people the rheumatoid arthritis drug sarimulab intravenously to see whether it’s effective at reducing the lung inflammation the coronavirus triggers in some patients. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Abortion providers and rights groups sue Oklahoma over COVID-19 related suspension: Abortion rights groups announced a lawsuit on Monday against top Oklahoma officials challenging an order Gov. Kevin Stitt issued last week that placed a moratorium on most abortions in the state. [The Frontier] Federal judges on Monday lifted restrictions Texas, Ohio and Alabama imposed on abortion during the coronavirus pandemic in decisions that could have repercussions for several more states like Oklahoma that have deemed the procedure non-essential during the crisis. [Politico]

Criminal Justice News

Oklahoma inmates making masks for health care workers: Inmates at one Oklahoma correctional center are coming together to make masks for health care workers battling the COVID-19 pandemic. The Warriors Quilting Club at Mabel Bassett Correctional Center is a team of inmates who share a love of sewing. [KFOR]

Economy & Business News

Coronavirus setbacks force some local manufacturers to pivot: A national plea has been issued for PPE, which is used by medical personnel as a barrier to coronavirus. Among local companies heeding the call are Rapid Application Group, a 3D printer manufacturer from Broken Arrow, and NXTNano in Claremore. [Tulsa World]

Who’s hiring? Several industries need workers during COVID-19 crisis: Industries deemed “essential” by state and federal governments are looking to hire more employees to meet increased demand for their services during the COVID-19 pandemic. Groceries, medicine, warehouse and delivery services are among the industries looking for more workers in Oklahoma. [The Journal Record]

Education News

Education divide in Oklahoma widens with move to distance learning: Through interviews with dozens of teachers and district leaders, The Frontier found some districts plan to move lessons and projects online, including in some schools that have already adopted personalized learning programs that students work through on school-issued laptops or tablets. In other districts the most students may receive are worksheet packets, storybooks and directed to watch public television programming that is being reoriented for students at home. [The Frontier] The pandemic that launched a massive, unplanned experiment with distance learning has created extraordinary hurdles for schoolchildren left behind by the digital divide. [AP / Tulsa World]  OK Policy has noted that education is a civil rights issues, and state officials should be exploring all options that provide equitable education solutions to all Oklahoma students, regardless of the resources that they have available.

Oklahoma state superintendent says COVID-19 reinforces need for digital access: Joy Hofmeister wants the internet in the home of every Oklahoma student. In an interview Monday, she said the COVID-19 closures have exposed an equity gap between students who have home internet access and those who don’t. “I want every one of our Oklahoma students to have access to a computer and internet access at home,” she said. “And I won’t rest until that’s done.” About a third of people in Oklahoma lack access to broadband. [StateImpact Oklahoma]

Oklahoma special education teachers and students adjust to distance learning environment: The Executive Director of Special Education Services for Oklahoma Todd Loftin says one thing is for certain: special education teachers across the state are ready for the challenge. “They’re used to trying to think of different ways for providing instruction. That’s what they do all day. So this is just a slightly different context for them,” Loftin said. [KOSU]

USDA allows all Oklahoma school districts to give free meals: A new federal waiver will open free school meals to students statewide during the COVID-19 pandemic, not only in high-need areas of Oklahoma. The U.S. Department of Agriculture approved the waiver to give free breakfast and lunch to students in school districts that don’t serve as many underprivileged children. [The Oklahoman]

General News

Tuesday is deadline to change party affiliation ahead of June primary elections: The deadline is Tuesday for registered voters to change party affiliations ahead of this summer’s primary and runoff elections. [Tulsa World]

Coronavirus’ next casualty: The nation’s biggest story could devastate news industry: On Monday, Gannett, which operates The Oklahoman and nine other newspapers in the state, told employees it would begin a series of immediate cost reductions, including a furlough program in its news division in April, May and June, as a result of the economic pressures brought on by the pandemic. [USA Today]

Oklahoma Local News

  • Mayor Holt: Oklahoma City’s coronavirus mortality rate close to 4.6% [KFOR]
  • Oklahoma County establishes COVID-19 hotline for uninsured residents [KFOR]
  • Tulsa Transit scales back service because of COVID-19 [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • Coronavirus on Tulsa time [Forbes]
  • Shelter in Place for Stillwater going into effect just before midnight [Stillwater News-Press]
  • Edmond amends emergency declaration to include shelter-in-place order amid coronavirus crisis [KOCO]
  • Union, Collinsville, Berryhill school districts join TPS in postponing board elections to June 30 [Tulsa World]

Quote of the Day

“This is going to shine a flashlight on those inequities in those areas where we have a lot of ground to make up and we better use this time to draw attention to that and move beyond this with a strategic investment.”

-State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister about the state’s pivot to distance learning during the pandemic [The Frontier]

Number of the Day


Oklahoma national rank in rate of Coronavirus deaths, with 0.43 deaths per 100,000 residents. Oklahoma ranks 28th in total population.

[Source: COVID Tracking Project, U.S. Census Bureau, & Oklahoma Watch]

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

March 31, 2020 is Equal Pay Day, which symbolizes how far into the year the average women must work in order to earn what the average man earns in the previous year regardless of experience or job type. Today’s Policy Note looks at how the pandemic is having an outsized impact on women in the workforce. 

The state of the gender pay gap 2020: The coronavirus pandemic of 2020 has forced a large portion of the population to work remotely, with layoffs on the horizon for some occupations and industries. Women have a higher risk of suffering greater penalties in earnings as result. Women make up a larger percentage of occupations in Community & Social Services, Education, Library & Training, Office & Administrative Support, and Personal Care & Services, which are more likely to be suspended, laid off, or forced to work reduced hours. Women are also more likely to have to take time off work, or even resign their positions, in order to care for children who are no longer in school as well as other family members. [PayScale]

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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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