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New from OK Policy
Oklahoma must take action to help workers who will be hurt by the pandemic: With the first cases of community spread of the COVID-19 virus in Oklahoma, expect to see effects on the economy soon. However, there are actions the state can take to soften the negative economic effects of the pandemic in Oklahoma. And they must start with expanding access to unemployment insurance. [Courtney Cullison / OK Policy]
Child care plays pivotal role during health crisis: As Oklahoma closes schools and businesses to help stop the spread of COVID-19, child care providers are playing a critical role for supporting delivery of health care and other vital services such as sanitation, utilities, postal, grocery, corrections, and emergency services. By staying open, child care centers make it possible for those workers with children to carry out these important roles. We recommend some policy measures that can support keeping child care centers open during the COVID-19 health emergency. [Rebecca Fine / OK Policy]
Policy Matters: It’s time to focus on what’s important: Current events clearly demonstrate that health care is a public safety issue, and it is shameful for Oklahoma to continue with a health care proposal that would keep hundreds of thousands of our friends and neighbors from getting the health care they need. Gov. Stitt should suspend the comment period until this national health emergency is over. [Ahniwake Rose / OK Policy] OK Policy has put together the CoverOK.org website so residents can learn more about the proposal, as well as have their voices heard about the governor’s proposal during the 30-day comment period.
In The News
Stitt anticipates tapping Rainy Day Fund as possible revenue shortfall looms: The COVID-19 outbreak could have a profound effect on Oklahoma’s state budget. Gov. Kevin Stitt said Wednesday the state could face a revenue shortfall in the current budget year due to the widespread economic impacts of the public health crisis. Stitt said he plans to dip into the state’s Rainy Day Fund, which is at an all-time high, to offset the possible revenue shortfall this year and help balance the fiscal year 2021 budget. [The Oklahoman]
As coronavirus spreads, hospitals and state leaders prepare for a patient surge: As the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19 spreads across Oklahoma, state and hospital leaders are bracing for a possible surge of patients ill with the virus. The governor and Oklahoma State Department of Health are examining how prepared the state health care system is to handle a sudden increase of patients and are taking stock of hospital beds, ventilator machines and personal protective equipment such as masks. [The Frontier] The Oklahoma Hospital Association said most hospitals don’t have the things they need and are worried they’ll run out of vital equipment to keep doctors and patients safe. [News9] The Stillwater Medical Center took to Facebook to look for seamstresses to sew cloth masks during the shortage. [FOX25]
‘The virus is spreading in our community’: Virus spread out-paces testing capability: COVID-19 is in the community, and public lab testing cannot keep up, health officials said. “The bottom line is that the number of lab-confirmed cases will continue to not be reflective of the number of individuals who are likely to be infected with COVID-19,” Dart said. “The virus is spreading in our community.” [Tulsa World]
Tulsa County man dies of COVID-19, one day after testing positive: A Tulsa County man in his 50s died of complications from the COVID-19 respiratory disease on Wednesday, one day after he tested positive for the virus. The Tulsa Health Department did not release any other details, including whether the victim had conditions that made him more susceptible to the coronavirus’s worst effects. [Oklahoma Watch] Oklahoma’s 1st deadly Coronavirus victim was a pastor, husband, & father. [NewsOn6] Dry, 55, was in apparent good health. [Tulsa World]
Dwindling testing kits limited to severe cases amid community spread: Only 100 COVID-19 testing kits remained Wednesday afternoon in Oklahoma, and the federal government refuses to tell state health officials when more will arrive. Gov. Kevin Stitt said state health officials must save the remaining tests for the most vulnerable Oklahomans already exhibiting severe symptoms. [CNHI / The Norman Transcript] With a handful of COVID-19 public test kits remaining and not enough resources to test collected specimens, health officials fear the deadly virus may spread undetected statewide until more tests can be shipped to Oklahoma. [CNHI / Enid News & Eagle]
Interactive maps: Known cases of COVID-19 in Oklahoma: The Frontier is tracking confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19 in an effort to inform people where the virus is spreading. The first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Oklahoma was announced on March 6. There are currently 44 confirmed cases in the state. One person has died. [The Frontier]
Oklahoma will not have spring assessment testing this year: Whether they’re in a classroom or at home, Oklahoma students won’t take assessment tests this school year. The state is pursuing a federal waiver to suspend all statewide student assessments in the midst of a statewide school closure due to COVID-19. But, State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said even if there’s a delay in the waiver process, state assessments will not happen this spring. [StateImpact Oklahoma] Oklahoma’s public schools are unlikely to reopen this school year, multiple officials with the state Department of Education have told The Frontier. [The Frontier]
Oklahoma schools and jails brace for the COVID-19 pandemic’s spread: School districts are prepped for the virus to spread and will be closed for at least three weeks after an order from the state. But district leaders are concerned about finding ways to feed and educate students moving forward. So far, advocates for Oklahoma sheriffs say they haven’t heard of any coronavirus cases inside county jails. However, jails are perfect places for a contagious virus to spread. [StateImpact Oklahoma]
State Health Department issues new COVID-19 guidance for Oklahoma child care facilities: The Oklahoma State Department of Health (OSDH) has issued new guidelines for child care facilities. At this time, child care providers remain a critical function in the state to address demands from health care workers, front line responders, grocer employees and other critical industries. [FOX25] How will school COVID-19 closures affect day care demand? Hard to know, officials and providers say. [Tulsa World] Child care centers play a pivotal role during a health emergency, and OK Policy has recommended state policies that can help keep child care facilities open.
Oklahoma Health Department partners with 2-1-1 for Coronavirus hotline: The State Health Department has formed a new partnership so Oklahomans can access information faster. If you need to contact the COVID-19 hotline you can do so by calling the toll free number at 877-215-8336 or simply dialing 211. [FOX25] The hotline will be open 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday. A Spanish speaking option will be available. [KTUL] Oklahoma State Department of Health expands resources as response to COVID-19. [The Duncan Banner]
Gov. Stitt files to suspend one-week waiting period for unemployment benefits: Gov. Kevin Stitt on Thursday filed to suspend the one-week waiting period for unemployment benefits. The second amended version of Executive Order 2020-07 was filed with the Oklahoma Secretary of State’s Office. Stitt signed the seconded amended version on Thursday. Thousands of Oklahoman’s without work due to the coronavirus pandemic are breathing a sigh of relief after the Executive Order was signed. [KFOR] Unemployment claims skyrocket as state is on pace for 10,000 in one week. [The Oklahoman] OK Policy has looked at some actions the state can take to soften the negative economic effects in the state.
State defers income tax payments: As COVID-19 slows down the state’s economy, the state will defer some tax bills that are due April 15. The Oklahoma Tax Commission order will let individual and other non-corporate tax filers to defer up to $1 million of state income tax, including self-employment tax payments, by three months. Oklahomans will still have to file their state and federal tax forms by April 15. [The Oklahoman]
State epidemiologist is replaced: The Oklahoma State Department of Health on Thursday abruptly replaced its state epidemiologist with a new interim one. Laurence Burnsed, who has been state epidemiologist and deputy commissioner of prevention and preparedness services at the health department since November 2018, was moved to a new role “to provide epidemiological expertise to Oklahoma stakeholders.” [Oklahoma Watch] The department gave no clear explanation for reassigning Burnsed, who had been thrust into the role of public explainer about complicated aspects of the virus, its spread, and testing. [The Oklahoman]
Corrections Department stops accepting inmates from jails: The Oklahoma Department of Corrections has notified sheriffs that it temporarily will not accept any new inmates from county jails. “We believe this drastic measure is necessary to ensure the safety of jail staff, ODOC staff and those in our custody,” Director Scott Crow wrote in a letter. The change went into effect Wednesday and affects all 77 counties. [The Oklahoman]
Emergency court dockets result in release of dozens from Tulsa County jail amid coronavirus threat: Chief Public Defender Corbin Brewster said the emergency court settings Thursday led to the release of 37 people who had been jailed for nonviolent felonies and another 30 in custody for misdemeanors. [Tulsa World]
As pandemic spreads, ‘life continues as normal’ in many rural communities: On a day when the state’s largest cities were closing restaurants and Gov. Kevin Stitt recommended that Oklahomans not go out to eat, Bob and Faith Capone officially opened Capone Hoagies in downtown Newkirk, hoping to draw a crowd from the town of 2,100 in north central Oklahoma. [The Frontier] Health officials are warning rural communities to be just as cautious as more densely populated areas in their response to the spread of COVID-19. [OSU News & Information]
After initial defiance, some cities and towns issue proclamations to temporarily close businesses to stop spread of virus: As COVID-19 continues to spread across Oklahoma, some of the cities that initially held out on requiring restaurants and some other businesses to close to prevent the spread of the disease have started to change course. [The Frontier] Tulsa leaders took surrounding communities to task over delayed action to lessen the spread of COVID-19 cases during a news conference Thursday. [Public Radio Tulsa] Broken Arrow city leaders voted to close some businesses and scale back others. [NewsOn6]
State-run county health websites lack COVID-19 info: Visit the Pittsburg County Health Department website, and you’ll learn about a pandemic. The problem — it’s the 2016 Zika pandemic that ended several years ago. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports local transmission of the mosquito-born virus hasn’t occurred since 2018. [CNHI / McAlester News-Capital]
Oklahoma Supreme Court, Court of Criminal Appeals issue COVID-19 guidelines: The Oklahoma Supreme Court and Court of Appeals issued a joint order to courts across the state on Wednesday about how to proceed under a state of emergency for COVID-19. All district courts are to continue jury trials to the next available jury dockets and release all current jurors from service. [Public Radio Tulsa]
Osage Nation to ‘revamp’ COVID-19 protocols it sent out inadvertently: The Osage Nation will “revamp” its COVID-19 protocols after portions detailing when the tribe will enter a “State of Emergency” were inadvertently copied from a smaller tribe, officials there said. Bobby Tallchief, Osage Nation Emergency Management Director, told The Frontier he had sent the tribe’s strategic analyst a document he had seen that detailed when the state of emergency would kick in. [The Frontier]
State of Oklahoma eligible for FEMA funding for COVID-19 emergency protective measures: The State of Oklahoma, as well as local, county and tribal governments, can receive federal funding for COVID-19 emergency protective measures following President Donald Trump’s nationwide emergency declaration. [KFOR]
Oklahoma Blood Institute lacking donations due to Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak: Coronavirus (COVID-19) has led to businesses, restaurants and schools to close, but the Oklahoma Blood Institute said the need for blood doesn’t stop and it can’t stop. The Oklahoma Blood Institute said they need 1,200 people to donate blood every day to keep up with the demand. [NewsOn6] State organizations warn ‘blood can’t wait’ as blood drives are canceled amid COVID-19 outbreak. [Tulsa World]
Diagnosed with COVID-19, Norman mother hopes to wake up from ‘bad dream’: Manda Nelson, who as of Wednesday remained self-quarantined, told The Frontier the experience has been “surreal” with “lots of unknowns.” “Symptoms still coming and going, just focused on getting well,” Nelson said Wednesday. “I keep hoping I am going to wake up from this bad dream.” [The Frontier] Experts warn Oklahomans to prevent community spread of virus. [Oklahoma Gazette]
Family speaks out while Ponca City man fights COVID-19 in ICU; wife sick in quarantine: Geoffrey Cowan of Ponca City is fighting for his life in an Oklahoma ICU after testing positive for COVID-19. His wife is also sick at home, as she sits in isolation. The couple’s daughter spoke to News 4, hoping to get the word out about how this virus is threatening her entire family. [KFOR] “Assume you’re contagious, even if you feel fine,” Health experts urging Oklahomans to be cautious for sake of others. [KFOR]
Coronavirus responses trigger anxiety, distress for vulnerable Oklahomans: Increasing closures and restrictions in response to the coronavirus can be triggers for anyone with mental illness. Oklahoma counselors and therapists are anticipating a flood of patients in the coming weeks and months. [Oklahoma Watch]
Coronavirus prompts cities, residents to rethink use of storm shelters: When tornadoes and severe storms threaten communities this spring, residents may find their public storm shelters are not open. They may also find they’re less willing to hurry to their neighbors’ house to protect themselves by crowding into their underground shelter. [Oklahoma Watch]
Cleveland & Pittsburg County halts warrants: Chief Judge of the Cleveland County District Court Thad Balkman has issued an order halting warrants for arrest and court appearances that do not involve violent offenders, The Transcript learned Thursday in an email from Balkman. [The Norman Transcript] Warrants for Pittsburg County residents who have failed to pay their fines have been stayed and held in abeyance for 30 days after a judge’s order. [CNHI]
County Commissioners seek new ways to govern during COVID-19 crisis: The Oklahoma County Budget Board and Board of County Commissioners met on Thursday to discuss regular business and the entirely irregular business of Covid-19 responses. [Free Press OKC]
‘Worst day of my life:’ Mayors of state’s two biggest cities describe thoughts leading to drastic COVID-19 measures: Within hours of Tulsa Mayor Bynum’s announcement on Tuesday, Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt followed suit with one of his own. The timing was no accident. The two mayors have called or texted each other dozens of times every day during the last week, and they decided early on that their two cities’ actions would mirror each other. [The Frontier]
OKC hospitals postpone elective, nonessential surgeries to fight COVID-19: Hospitals are struggling with coronavirus concerns as they make decisions about nonessential surgeries. Five of the largest metro hospital systems have voluntarily chosen to postpone elective surgical procedures, but not all surgery centers are following suit. [KFOR]
Oklahoma Restaurant Association urges Oklahomans to keep calm and carry out: Almost overnight, the coronavirus has rapidly changed the hospitality industry. The Oklahoma Restaurant Association (ORA) urges Oklahomans across the state to keep calm and carry out their meals from local establishments. [The Shawnee News-Star]
New situation for EMBARK buses, streetcars under state of emergency: EMBARK, Oklahoma City’s public transit system, is still running normal bus and streetcar routes even though a state of emergency has been declared for the City to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. While some people in the city are working from home after business have been closed or forced to limit hours, many more still have to travel to work outside of the house and rely on public transportation to get to work. [Free Press OKC]
Fear over virus, social unrest driving more gun sales: It started with toilet paper and baby wipes. Now, fears over the ongoing coronavirus pandemic are driving a run on firearms and ammunition. “People are afraid. People are scared of what’s going to happen in the future,” said Austin Warfield, owner of C.O.P.S. Gun Shop in Oklahoma City. [The Journal Record]
Drug being tested for COVID-19 can have deadly side effects: Chloroquine, a drug that President Trump has announced is being fast-tracked for clinical testing as a treatment for COVID-19, can have deadly side effects — particularly if accidentally ingested by children. [The Oklahoman]
VIPs go to the head of the line for coronavirus tests: On the same day that Utah Jazz player Rudy Gobert fell ill in Oklahoma and was tested for the coronavirus this month, a female paramedic lay in a Tulsa hospital bed a little more than a hundred miles away, unable to obtain a test. [The Washington Post] Doctors and patients are expressing concern that NBA players and celebrities are getting preferred access to tests for the COVID-19 coronavirus while the general public and people with symptoms have to wait. [CNBC]
U.S. Reps. Kendra Horn, Tom Cole to self-quarantine for two weeks: U.S. Reps. Kendra Horn and Tom Cole announced Thursday that they must self-quarantine until next week because of contact with colleagues who tested positive for COVID-19. [The Oklahoman] Horn, a Democrat, and Tom Cole, a Republican, each said they are not experiencing any symptoms of illness, but will self-quarantine on the recommendation of the House of Representatives’ attending physician. [The Journal Record]
James Inhofe under fire over purchase of Raytheon stock: Senator James M. Inhofe, the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, came under fire on Thursday for purchasing tens of thousands of dollars of stock in a leading defense contractor just a week after he successfully lobbied the Trump administration to increase military spending. [NY Times]
Amid epidemic, new details on Stitt’s health plan are released for public comment: Oklahoma has quietly released details of Gov. Kevin Stitt’s Medicaid expansion plan, with the state’s own report saying the plan “will likely depress enrollment” by thousands of Oklahomans compared to a traditional Medical expansion plan. [Okahoma Watch / KGOU] OK Policy: Learn more about the proposal and have your voice heard by visiting CoverOK.org.
Quote of the Day
“We may not prevent the complete transmission of this disease, but what we’re trying to slow is the fact that we may overwhelm the health care system capacity.”
-Dr. Dale Bratzler, enterprise chief quality officer at OU Medicine [The Frontier]
Number of the Day
The percentage of people in our nation’s prisons who are 55 or older, which is the most at-risk population for COVID-19. The aging population in state prisons has surpassed the number of young adults between the age 18 and 24.
[Source: The Marshall Project]
A coronavirus outbreak in jails or prisons could turn into a nightmare: The next site of a deadly coronavirus outbreak may not be a cruise ship, conference, or school. It could be one of America’s thousands of jails or prisons. Just about all the concerns about coronavirus’s spread in packed social settings apply as much, if not more, to correctional settings. [Vox]
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