In The Know, Sunday: Gov. asks for virus to be declared ‘Act of God’; reopening plans get mixed reactions; 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.

Note: During the pandemic, OK Policy will be publishing In The Know on Saturdays and Sundays in order to keep our subscribers up to date on the latest information going on in the state and the nation.  

Oklahoma News

Gov. Stitt to President Trump: declare COVID-19 pandemic an ‘Act of God’ amid oil industry struggles: Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt announced Saturday that he wrote a letter to President Donald Trump asking for his administration to declare the COVID-19 pandemic an “act of God.” The letter states Oklahoma has struggled in recent weeks with the “near total disappearance” of demand for oil and gas products as well as the “imminent lack of available storage” for them. He pointed out oil futures closed negative for the first time in recorded history because of the level of oversupply and the lack of storage capabilities. [Tulsa World] [View Gov. Stitt’s letter]

‘Tulsa’s cases will not go down, they will increase,’ mayor says as safer-at-home order ends April 30:  Mayor G.T. Bynum said Tulsa would fall in line with the state’s loosening of COVID-19 guidance despite concerns based on local data. “Tulsa does not exist in a bubble,” Bynum said. And because of the state’s rollback and other cities following it, “Tulsa’s (COVID-19) cases will not go down, they will increase.” He said it would be futile, however, to try to continue more restrictive guidance than what the state has enacted “when everyone else has abandoned that practice.” [Tulsa World] Tulsa preps to restart after Stitt declaration, but city’s top health official concerned premature openings could create surge amid inadequate testing. [Tulsa World

When is it safe to ease social distancing? Here’s what one model says for each state: A recent report from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation suggests June 17 will be the date Oklahoma’s infection rate will reach 1 new infection per million people in a given state. IHME estimates that states with this level of transmission should be able to keep outbreaks from flaring up even after people start mingling again, though the researchers stress that states would still need to limit large gatherings. [NPR] See Oklahoma’s list of what’s reopening in Phase 1 and Phase 2 [Tulsa World]

Commentary: Open sesame: Kevin Stitt and the 40 mayors: You can hear it faintly in the distance: A call from the governor’s OKC residences, or perhaps his home in Tulsa, to slowly re-open Oklahoma. As it gets louder and Oklahoma mayors decide whether to lift their own orders May 1, we have to ask ourselves two questions: Is it appropriate yet? If so, will people be willing to move freely among each other as we once did? [Commentary / NonDoc

Editorial: COVID-19 fallout should renew debate over municipal funding: Oklahoma City isn’t alone in this — municipalities large and small across Oklahoma are burdened by having to lean so heavily upon sales taxes, which can wind up pitting city against city as they go after a limited number of retail establishments. [Oklahoman Editorial

Oklahoma COVID-19 Numbers Continue To Climb; 3,193 Confirmed Cases, Nearly 200 Dead [Public Radio Tulsa] Visit for the latest COVID-19 numbers in Oklahoma.

Health News

Tulsa World editorial: We endorse State Question 802 for a stronger, healthier Oklahoma: Thirty-six other states have accepted Medicaid expansion funding. It’s time for Oklahoma to stop refusing a huge investment in our people, our hospitals and our economy. [Tulsa World Editorial] OK Policy has provided information and resources to better understand the issues around SQ 802. 

Oklahoma seniors account for 8 of 10 deaths related to COVID-19: The update Saturday of deaths related to COVID-19 in Oklahoma had a familiar characteristic: Nearly all of them — five of six — were people age 65 or older. Since March 19, when the first Oklahoma death related to COVID-19 was reported by the Oklahoma State Health Department, 80% of the 194 total deaths have been people 65 or older. [The Oklahoman]

Op-Ed: Protecting the lives of Oklahomans: While leaders are planning a reopening of the state, each long-term care community and its staff remain on the front lines of the relentless COVID-19 pandemic. Based on midweek data relating to Oklahoma COVID-19 deaths, an astounding 37% are related to long-term care. Long-term care residents face increased vulnerability to this virus because of age and pre-existing comorbidities. [Op-Ed / The Oklahoman]

Big unknowns about virus complicate getting back to normal: Reopening the U.S. economy is complicated by some troubling scientific questions about the new coronavirus that go beyond the logistics of whether enough tests are available. [AP] Op-Ed: Being stuck at home stinks, but it beats dying. [Op-Ed / Enid News & Eagle]

Oklahoma spent $2 million to buy stockpile of malaria drug touted by President Trump as effective COVID-19 treatment: State and local governments across the United States have obtained about 30 million doses of a malaria drug touted by President Trump to treat patients with the coronavirus, despite warnings from doctors that more research is needed. [AP via Tulsa World]

‘Let’s Talk’ series to feature conversation with Dr. Bruce Dart of Tulsa Health Department: Dr. Bruce Dart, executive director of the Tulsa Health Department, will be the sole guest on the next “Let’s Talk” virtual town hall. To participate in the town hall, email questions for Dr. Dart to by 10 a.m. Tuesday. [Tulsa World]

State Government News

Week’s events make future of Oklahoma tribal gaming murkier: The already cloudy future of Indian gaming in Oklahoma got a whole lot murkier last week with Gov. Kevin Stitt’s signing of tribal gaming compacts with two of the nearly dozen tribes that had been suing him in Oklahoma City federal court. [The Oklahoman]

Tribes seek settlement terms in casino compact lawsuit; claims mediation rules not followed: After it was announced earlier this week that two tribes had reached an agreement with the state on new gaming compacts, a judge dismissed the two tribes Friday from a federal lawsuit filed against Gov. Kevin Stitt’s office. The dismissal came over the objections of the remaining tribes in the lawsuit, who sought more information about the proposed settlements and compacts or a declaration regarding the legality of the new compacts. [Tulsa World] Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt responded Friday to charges leveled by Republican leaders in the state legislature that recent gaming compacts signed between the state and two tribal governments were unlawful. [Public Radio Tulsa]

Editorial: Progress on Oklahoma gaming compacts, or more problems? Gov. Kevin Stitt sees new gaming compacts reached with two Oklahoma Indian tribes as progress in a legal dispute with several other tribes. Those tribes, Oklahoma’s attorney general and legislative leaders do not share Stitt’s optimism, a sign that this impasse is far from over. [Editorial / The Oklahoman] Editorial: Why didn’t the governor and attorney general, or at least someone in the attorney general’s office discuss this beforehand? Maybe that would help avoid a situation where the governor makes a grand announcement and the attorney general almost immediately issues a challenge that could lead to more legal wrangling and more cost to the state in what is turning into a budget crisis already. [Editorial/ Woodward News]

Lawmakers question $1.3 billion budget shortfall projection for fiscal year 2021: Lawmakers are questioning whether the state really will have $1.3 billion less to spend in fiscal year 2021. But the $1.36 billion shortfall figure was presented without any backup data, said Senate Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City. [Tulsa World]

Federal Government News

Oklahoma lawmakers say public trust hospitals now eligible for paycheck program: Oklahoma’s congressional delegation applauded a decision by the Small Business Administration to make publicly owned hospitals eligible for a newly created loan-to-grant program and other financial assistance. [The Oklahoman]

Economy & Business News

Injured workers test how workers’ comp handles COVID-19: The first worker’s compensation claims related to COVID-19 filed in Oklahoma include a college campus food service worker who died and a paramedic still undergoing treatment. [The Oklahoman]

While many restaurants and personal care businesses are eager to open May 1, not all merchants convinced timing is right: Fans of dining out might need to hold off making dinner reservations beginning next month when area restaurants get the green light to reopen their dining rooms again. Several restaurateurs surveyed in Tulsa were skeptical about reopening as early as May 1. Most aren’t certain exactly what the guidelines will entail and are taking a wait-and-see approach. [Tulsa World] ‘Safety has to come first’: Restaurant re-openings involve complex business decisions. [The Oklahoman]

Businesses, banks continue wait for more relief funding: More than 35,000 Oklahoma small businesses received loans from the federal $2 trillion stimulus plan last week, but thousands more are stuck waiting for a refill for a program that blew through $350 billion in less than three weeks. [Gaylord News via CNHI]

Op-Ed: Be adaptable during gradual return to business: Given that we are not sure what the exact risk is of relaxing the current public health measures, we need to tread carefully and be prepared to adapt in the event the working surveillance metrics — incidence rates of COVID-19 — demonstrate increases in the number of new cases. [Op-Ed / The Oklahoman]

Cattle biz loses billions to COVID-19: The research conducted by Oklahoma State University identified revenue losses of $3.7 billion so far this year in the cow-calf sector alone, the equivalent of $112 per head for each breeding animal in the country. If that impact is not offset, long-term damages to producers are projected to rise by another $4.5 billion, or total loss of about $247 per head. [OSU Extension via CNHI]

Keep it clean: Expert says higher attention to clean rooms, clean air will be key in age of COVID-19: The COVID-19 pandemic brought people’s attention to better hand-washing habits and covering their mouths when they sneeze or cough. It should also bring attention to how our homes, schools and businesses are cleaned as well, according to a local indoor air quality expert. [Tulsa World]

Education News

Oklahoma colleges deciding how to disburse $55 million in student aid: Oklahoma colleges and universities are developing systems from the ground up to distribute millions in federal aid to students. The U.S. Department of Education appropriated about $110 million in relief funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act to public and private colleges in Oklahoma. More than $55 million of the package must go toward student cash grants. Each college has significant discretion for who can receive grants and how much to give to each student. [The Oklahoman]

New teachers will be able to work in the fall thanks to state Board Of Education action: Though it’s unclear what school will look like, recent graduates and others will be able to teach in Oklahoma in fall 2020. The state school board voted to unanimously allow a one-time, single year certification for people who were on track to get their certification. [StateImpact via KGOU]

General News

Pulse of the Voters: Health care, immigration and heartland votes: Health care dominated political dialogue leading up to the coronavirus crisis, and if voters in the nation’s heartland are an accurate yardstick, the struggle over the best way to provide it will escalate on the road to November’s election. [CNHI]

OUR VIEW: Remember your Census: The last six weeks or so have been a time in which we have all had to adjust many aspects of our lives due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With all that has been going on with that, it makes it easy to forget about things such as the Census. [Stillwater News Press Editorial] OK Policy: an accurate Census count in the state is vital for Oklahoma to secure its share of federal funding, have fair voting representation, and more.

Quote of the Day

“Basically, I think it’s a dreadful idea, totally irresponsible, and damned wrong. I’m not making my establishment a petri dish of potential death that would subject my beloved staff family or guests to play roulette in.”

-Miranda Kaiser, owner of Laffa Medi-Eastern Restaurant & Bar, about the decision to allow restaurants to reopen dining rooms on May 1. [Tulsa World]

Number of the Day


The mean age of Oklahoma deaths related to COVID-19 since March 19. Seniors have made up 80 percent of the state’s reported deaths due to the virus, while they are only 16 percent of the state’s population.

[Source: The Oklahoman]

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Who are we? We’re finding out together: There are 15 boxes that people can choose from on the census form, and within some of those categories, respondents have the option to get more granular. They can specify that they’re Black Jamaican, for instance, or a white person of Serbian descent. People are also allowed to check as many boxes as they want, including “some other race.” But despite the many options, we know that people’s identities rarely fall neatly into these boxes. [NPR Code Switch]

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David Hamby has more than 25 years of experience as an award-winning communicator, including overseeing communication programs for Oklahoma higher education institutions and other organizations. Before joining OK Policy, he was director of public relations for Rogers State University where he managed the school’s external communication programs and served as a member of the president’s leadership team. He served in a similar communications role for five years at the University of Tulsa. He also has worked in communications roles at Oklahoma State University and the Fort Smith Chamber of Commerce in Arkansas. He joined OK Policy in October 2019.

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