In The Know: State shutters contract tracing centers | Gov. promotes tourism during pandemic | Early look at next year’s state budget

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

Revenue estimates don’t make budgets. Leaders do: On Friday, the State Board of Equalization provided the revenue certification that will serve as the basis for Oklahoma’s budget year that starts July 1, 2021 (FY 2022). The news was better than expected, but doesn’t suggest the state’s long-term budget slide is over. The Board estimates next year’s budget will be $749 million, or 10 percent more than the current budget. The good news is tempered, though, by the fact that the FY 2022 estimate is buoyed by more than $300 million in unspent cash available from prior years (which might not be available in later years), and temporary reallocation of more than $300 million from the Teachers Retirement System and the ROADS Fund, both of which end for the following year. [Paul Shinn / OK Policy]

Oklahoma News

‘A big relief’: State expected to have $631.2 million more for upcoming budget: Officials expect the state to have $631 million more to spend in fiscal year 2022, according to information provided Friday. The Board of Equalization, chaired by Gov. Kevin Stitt, met Friday to discuss and approve budget figures. The state will have 8.1 percent more to spend above the current fiscal year, according to figures released Friday.[Tulsa World] House Appropriations and Budget Chairman Kevin Wallace reminded the Board the budget passed in May avoided catastrophic cuts by using almost $1 billion in non-recurring revenues. As a result, even if today’s estimate of almost $600 million more being available for FY 2022 holds when the board gives the Legislature its final expenditure authorization in February, the year’s budget will still pose challenges. [NonDoc] “While the news from today’s Board of Equalization was better than expected, our elected officials need to remain focused on long-term solutions that strengthen state revenue for the long run. These solutions include taking a hard look at ineffective tax breaks and economic incentives, among other solutions OK Policy has proposed,” Executive Director Ahniwake Rose said in a statement. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Oklahoma advises those infected with COVID-19 to do their own contact tracing as it shutters center: As active coronavirus cases remain above 30,000 in Oklahoma, the state health department says its contact tracers are having to prioritize calls and will advise most people with confirmed cases to do their own contact tracing. In addition, the state has shuttered a contact tracing call center in Oklahoma City paid for by federal CARES Act money. A related contract for additional temporary contact tracers continues but the Oklahoma State Department of Health is looking for additional funding to keep those positions in the new year. [Oklahoma Watch]

  • Stillwater Medical Center ICU capacity hits zero as COVID patients flood the hospital [FOX 25]
  • COVID-19: Oklahoma sets highs for daily and active cases after 4,970 new infections reported [Tulsa World]
  • Tulsa County ZIP code map down slightly from record red; OU’s COVID chief points out sad day in U.S. [Tulsa World]
  • As vaccine rolls out to first Oklahomans, coronavirus cases remain high statewide [Oklahoma Watch]
  • Oklahoma’s next Pfizer vaccine shipment will be smaller than anticipated [The Oklahoman]
  • Inhofe, Lankford among Oklahoma elected officials to receive COVID-19 vaccine [Tulsa World]
  • Official: Hope, long road still ahead with COVID vaccines [AP News]
  • Capitol Insider: As vaccinations start, state braces for holiday COVID-19 case surge [KGOU]

As the CDC discouraged holiday travel, Gov. Kevin Stitt urged tourists to visit Oklahoma: As Oklahoma has seen a surge in new daily COVID-19 infections and a record number of people hospitalized due to the virus, Gov. Kevin Stitt is making a direct pitch to boost tourism in the state. Stitt stars in a 30-second promotional video encouraging those in neighboring states to visit Oklahoma. The video conveys a message that Oklahoma is open for business, and underscores the business friendly approach Stitt has taken to the COVID-19 pandemic. [The Oklahoman]

  • Forbes ranked Oklahoma as the 9th riskiest state to visit over Christmas [Forbes]
  • Oklahoma bars, restaurants get temporary curfew reprieve [AP News] | [The Oklahoman]
  • Impact of mask mandates: COVID-19 case rate growth lower in cities that acted earliest [Tulsa World]
  • AP: Oklahoma spent $87M on medical gear in early virus wave [AP News] | [Tulsa World]
  • ‘Their life is still valuable’: Oklahomans who lost loved ones to COVID-19 pay homage at public memorial [Tulsa World]

Eviction protections set to end Dec. 31: Eviction protections are set to run out at the end of 2020, and housing advocates say they are worried about what January might bring. The second federal eviction moratorium, which prevents landlords from evicting tenants who can prove they had financial hardships because of the pandemic, ends Dec. 31. And all money from the first federal coronavirus relief package, known as the CARES Act, has to be spent by the end of this year, as well. [The Oklahoman] OK Policy and its Open Justice Oklahoma program have been tracking evictions in Oklahoma and noted that policymakers must do more to prevent evictions and foreclosures during and after the COVID-19 crisis.

Health News

‘Much needed relief’: TCC nursing graduates among those going directly into jobs thanks to special COVID provision: One of 175 graduates who completed their associate degree in nursing this month from Tulsa Community College, Martin, like many of them, is going straight into a job thanks to a special provision that allows them to work as graduate nurses before obtaining their license. [Tulsa World]

Rural towns across Oklahoma struggle to keep water clean: For many rural towns across the country, improving water quality is an effort that takes years and millions of dollars to fix. For some rural towns, it’s a struggle to keep up with the improvements. [KOSU]

State Government News

Oklahoma State Sen. Standridge expresses concern regarding managed care organizations after release of U.S. Government Accountability Office Report: The Oklahoma State Senate issued the following news release: State Sen. Rob Standridge, R-Norman, is once again raising concern regarding managed care organizations (MCO) after the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report finding access and quality problems in managed care. [Sen. Rob Standridge / Insurance News] OK Policy: Managed care is a bad investment for Oklahoma, but could be especially harmful for patients, providers, and Indigenous communities

Federal Government News

Politics to play key role in new taxes: Tax policy is political, and changes are to be expected after Joe Biden is sworn in as president – but exactly what changes will occur and how soon changes come about is anyone’s guess, said a panel of experts speaking during a Journal Record webinar. While the Biden administration likely will tackle issues surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic and economic recovery first, changes to the tax code are likely after his first year in office. [Journal Record]

Criminal Justice News

Racial disparities in Oklahoma prison admissions led to Black people disproportionately exposed to COVID-19, advocacy group says: A prison reform group has outlined what it says was a pattern of racial disparities that led to African Americans being disproportionately exposed to COVID-19 during the early months of the pandemic. Analyzing recent Oklahoma Department of Corrections data,, a national nonprofit advocacy body claimed in a report that Black Oklahomans were admitted to state prisons between March and June at increased rates. [Tulsa World] OK Policy: COVID-19 in Oklahoma prisons is a moral emergency

Oklahoma County Jail detainee found dead: Sunday morning Oklahoma County Jail staff found a 35-year-old detainee to be “unresponsive” in his cell and later declared dead by the Emergency Medical Service (EMS). [OKC Free Press] According to a news release from the Oklahoma County Detention Center, the man was found around 7:20 a.m. and despite immediate life saving measures, he was pronounced dead on the scene by EMS. [FOX 25] 

Economic Opportunity

Three charts that show dire economic realities faced by thousands of Oklahomans: Hundreds of thousands of Oklahomans are entering the holiday season with anxiety of how they’ll pay for food, rent and common household expenses, new federal data shows. The U.S. Census Bureau’s latest Household Pulse Survey which provides near real-time estimates of the nation’s social and economic state, paints a dire picture for many struggling months into the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed thousands and caused soaring unemployment rates. [Oklahoma Watch]

In public housing, a small debt can get poor tenants evicted: The Howard Center for Investigative Journalism analyzed four years of eviction data for Crisfield and four other public housing authorities with aggressive filing records — in Minneapolis; Oklahoma City; Charleston, South Carolina; and Richmond, Virginia — to find out why these important anti-poverty agencies are taking so many of their clients to court. [AP News]

Tulsa County makes CARES Act funds available for past-due utility bills: One of Tulsa County’s final distributions of federal CARES Act funding is going to assist people who have fallen behind on their utility bills because of COVID-19. [Tulsa World]

Economy & Business News

As Congress eyes second round of assistance, data shows Oklahoma businesses received $7.5 billion in coronavirus aid: As Congress continues to debate a new round of economic stimulus for individuals and businesses, the data released earlier this month on the year’s first round of payouts to businesses paints a clearer picture than ever about how much Oklahoma businesses and nonprofits received. [The Frontier]

Education News

Superintendent Joy Hofmeister didn’t want to know about federal Epic investigation, records show: The money Epic Charter Schools leaders contributed to Joy Hofmeister’s campaign for state superintendent did have an influence. But rather than curry her favor, Hofmeister told state auditors earlier this year the donations made her uncomfortable, according to records released Wednesday. [Oklahoma Watch]

Coveducation recap: OKCPS plan, attendance questions & snow days: There’s a lot of Oklahoma education news to catch up on this week, from Gov. Kevin Stitt moving teachers to phase two of Oklahoma’s vaccine distribution plan to an updated audit of Epic Charter Schools showing the school could have shortchanged taxpayers an additional $823,000. [NonDoc]

  • Here’s what we know about metro school plans for 2021 [The Oklahoman]

Oklahoma Local News

  • Congress approves Clara Luper name for OKC post office [The Oklahoman]
  • OKC zoning proposal would outlaw marijuana drive-thru [The Oklahoman]
  • Long before Tesla, Tulsa tried to lure a major corporation that would have changed the city’s history [Tulsa World]
  • Stillwater officials aim to transform Boomer Lake power station [Tulsa World]
  • Ottawa County Sheriff indicted on embezzlement, perjury charges [The Joplin Globe]

Quote of the Day

“Given that contract tracing was not fully utilized from the beginning, our disease investigators and contractors were placed in a position in which they could not engage COVID contacts in a timely manner. This only highlights the need, during and post-COVID, to re-fund public health agencies to proper levels.”

-Randolph Hubach, associate professor of rural health at Oklahoma State University-Center for Health Sciences in Tulsa and associate director of OSU’s master of public health program, speaking about the state’s decision to shutter its contract tracing program [Oklahoma Watch]

Number of the Day


Oklahoma’s rank among riskiest states to visit this holiday season due to COVID-19 rates. [Forbes]

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Why Scientific Evidence Matters in a Pandemic: The 1918 influenza pandemic powered a new era of modern science, discovery and approaches to public health, helping to build the scientific and public health community, which in subsequent years produced new tests for infection, medicines for treatment, vaccines to stop the spread, and more. In contrast, the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic, despite having produced some notable scientific gains, has also fueled attacks on how we know what we know, raising doubts about the scientific process by which we generate facts, analyze data, and reach conclusions. We are facing a dangerous barrage of misinformation that ignores evidence and dismisses the scientific process, undermining our national response and belief in science. [Brown University School of Public Health]   

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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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