In The Know: Virus cases soar after Trump rally, related events | Superintendent addresses school reopening | Racism impacts health outcomes

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

Policy Matters: Children – the best investment we can make: The latest KIDS COUNT report noted that more than 200,000 Oklahoma children, or more than 1 in 5, live in poverty. It showed that while Oklahoma saw a 12% improvement in its child poverty rate between 2010 and 2018, 35 other states made greater progress during the same period. As a result, Oklahoma remained among the nation’s bottom 10 states for children living in poverty. This is indicative of how the state fared in most other indicator categories. In places where Oklahoma made progress, other states made more progress. [Ahniwake Rose / Journal Record]

Oklahoma News

‘Connect the dots’: Tulsa County COVID-19 cases soaring weeks after Trump rally, related large-scale events: Public health side effects of President Donald Trump’s controversial campaign rally in Tulsa are manifesting this week as the county’s COVID-19 cases skyrocket. There were 261 new cases of the virus in Tulsa County reported Tuesday, which is the most yet in a single day. There were 206 reported Wednesday, the fourth most so far as the county’s seven-day rolling average of new cases nearly tops its recent peak. [Tulsa World] Although the health department’s policy is to not publicly identify individual settings where people may have contracted the virus, Dart said those large gatherings “more than likely” contributed to the spike. [AP News]

  • Tulsa Mayor says he shouldn’t have to impose a mask mandate but will soon if Tulsa doesn’t reverse skyrocketing trend [Tulsa World]
  • Bynum tells Tulsans not to wait for mask mandate: ‘Step up and do it yourselves’ [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • As Tulsa County Commissioner pushes for mask mandate, Expo Square weekend event won’t require them [Tulsa World]
  • A closer look at Norman’s mask ordinance [Norman Transcript]
  • Stilwell mask mandate generates controversy [Stilwell Democrat Journal]
  • Tahlequah residents offer opinions on face masks [Tahlequah Daily Press]
  • Opinion: Masks could help this vulnerable population [The Oklahoman Editorial Board]
  • Editorial: Mask mandate? It shouldn’t take a government order for everyone to be wearing a mask in public now [Editorial / Tulsa World]

Hofmeister says Trump threats to penalize states if schools choose not to open ‘aren’t helpful’: Trump administration threats to penalize states that don’t “open” public schools for the fall semester “aren’t helpful,” State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister said Wednesday. “Threats aren’t helpful in alleviating fear, and Oklahomans don’t need to be schooled on the importance of reopening schools this fall,” Hofmeister said. “We know it is critical for many reasons, not the least of which being the education of our children after the learning loss from this past spring.” [Tulsa World] Determined to reopen America’s schools despite coronavirus worries, President Donald Trump threatened Wednesday to hold back federal money if school districts don’t bring their students back in the fall. He complained that his own public health officials’ safety guidelines are impractical and too expensive. [AP News]

Panel: Trauma, systemic racism cause lower health outcomes for Black community: Health care experts discussed the impact of systemic racism, cultural barriers and generational trauma on health outcomes for Black women during the second virtual Black Women Voices panel Wednesday. The five Black female panelists pointed to food deserts, high poverty levels, elevated rates of incarceration and the resulting stress as some of the key issues causing serious health disparities for the Black community overall. [The Oklahoman] See the video on the Black Women Voices Facebook page [Black Women Voices]

COVID-19: 673 new cases reported with three more deaths across Oklahoma: State officials reported Wednesday that 673 more Oklahomans were infected with the potentially deadly respiratory infection and that three more had died from it. There have been 407 deaths from COVID-19 in Oklahoma since late March and 17,893 infections since early March. Tuesday marked the highest day yet for daily reporting of new infections. Wednesday marked the second highest day. [Tulsa World] Visit for the latest COVID-19 numbers in Oklahoma.

Health News

OKC hospital, management company and physician group to pay $72.3 million settlement over alleged kickback scheme: An Oklahoma City hospital, physician group and management company have reached a $72.3 million settlement over allegations of a kickback scheme brought forth by a whistleblower. Oklahoma Center for Orthopaedic and Multi-Specialty Surgery, and its part-owner and management company, USP OKC Inc. and USP OKC Manager Inc., along with Southwest Orthopaedic Specialists and two of their physicians, will pay the massive settlement to resolve allegations under the False Claims Act and the Oklahoma Medicaid False Claims Act. [The Oklahoman]

State Government News

State on pace to double medical marijuana revenue: Oklahoma collected more in taxes on sales of medical marijuana and related products through the first six months of 2020 than the state collected in all of 2019. The most recent reports from the Oklahoma Tax Commission show that the state collected $57,023,293.68 in medical marijuana taxes in the months of January through June.  By comparison, $54,751,171.28 was collected in all 12 months of 2019. The totals represent the 7% excise tax levied by the state as well as state and local sales taxes collected on medical marijuana transactions. [Journal Record]

Facing litigation, state temporarily halts enforcement of some marijuana business rules: Pending litigation, the Oklahoma attorney general’s office temporarily has agreed the state will not enforce some medical marijuana laws that could force some dispensaries to close their doors. On Monday, Oklahoma’s assistant solicitor general agreed the Oklahoma State Department of Health and the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority will not enforce certain residency and location requirements that pertain to medical marijuana businesses and how long their owners have resided in Oklahoma. [The Oklahoman]

Federal Government News

‘We’re grateful’: Faith groups express gratitude for loans in pandemic era: When houses of worship were forced to close during the recent COVID-19 shutdown, many faith groups and religious affiliates across the state grasped a financial lifeline through forgivable loans from the federal government. Congress approved the money through the Coronavirus Aid and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) to help businesses and other entities pay their employees during the shutdown. [The Oklahoman] American Atheists, a self-described religious equality watchdog group, said allowing religious entities access to billions of dollars in such loans amounts to the “direct government subsidy of religious activity,” which the group believes is in violation of the Establishment Clause. [The Oklahoman

Oklahoma County spent small fraction of CARES Act dollars, officials working on new plans: Oklahoma County has only spent a small fraction of its CARES Act dollars since receiving them in April as officials try to create a plan for more broadly distributing the funds. Legal technicalities and lack of an agreement on how to spend the money has kept the county from doling out the funding more quickly or to any entities outside of internal county offices. [The Oklahoman]

Criminal Justice News

‘He went above and beyond in everything’: Tulsa Police Sgt. Craig Johnson remembered as ‘tenacious investigator,’ caring mentor: To anyone familiar with his work habits, it was no mystery why Tulsa Police Sgt. Craig Johnson was on the scene that fateful morning of June 29. [Tulsa World] Man jailed in connection with death of Tulsa police sergeant attempts suicide, jail staff say [Tulsa World] More than half a million dollars donated for families of slain Tulsa Police Sgt. Craig Johnson, wounded Officer Aurash Zarkeshan [Tulsa World]

Committee to discuss plans for money cut from Norman police budget: Last month, the Norman City Council cut the police department budget by $865,000 in response to calls to fund alternatives to armed policing. On Thursday, the council’s oversight committee will discuss how to spend $630,000 of that money, which is sitting in a fund for alternative community policing programs. Council member Kate Bierman, who heads the committee, is interested in two successful programs, including a long-standing mental health crisis intervention program based in Oregon, called Cahoots (Crisis Assistance Helping Out On The Streets) that responds to 911 calls related to addiction, disorientation, mental health crises, and homelessness, but that don’t pose a danger to others. [The Oklahoman]

Economic Opportunity

Dates set for Tulsa event to help Oklahomans trying to get unemployment claims processed: The Oklahoma Employment Security Commission has announced the dates of events in Tulsa to help the unemployed get their claims processed. Two socially distanced claim processing events are scheduled from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. July 15 and 16 in the lower level of the River Spirit Expo Center at the fairgrounds. To accommodate social distancing, only 400 people may be processed each day on a first-come, first-served basis. [Tulsa World]

Organizations reach out to provide food assistance: Organizations across the Oklahoma City metropolitan area are working together to provide food to unemployed and underemployed Oklahomans, and one of those organizations has reached out to residents filing for unemployment benefits. Regional Food Bank of Oklahoma employees distributed boxes of food at Rose State College Wednesday to people waiting in line for help with unemployment claims at the nearby Reed Conference Center in Midwest City. [The Oklahoman

Economy & Business News

Hiring outlook for second half muted by virus concerns: With numerous states experiencing spikes in COVID-19 cases, businesses are predicting a dim hiring outlook for the latter half of the year with only 35% of decision-makers saying their company will increase employees, according to a newly released survey conducted by The Harris Poll and commissioned by Oklahoma City-based Express Employment Professionals. [Journal Record]

Proposed fee change could alter your phone bill: Oklahoma Universal Service Fund Administrator Brandy Wreath proposes charging telecommunications companies a flat, monthly fee of $1.14 per connection for most phone services. The proposition is outlined in a case that needs to be approved by the Oklahoma Corporation Commission before that can change. Wreath estimates the assessment would raise nearly $65 million to support the fund in fiscal year 2021, which started July 1, and he believes it would eliminate customer confusion about how the fee is calculated. [The Oklahoman]

Commission hears ONG’s side of rate hike: Oklahoma Natural Gas acted within its authority when making an operational switch that blindsided a group of manufacturers with higher bills, but the Oklahoma Corporation Commission would have appreciated being informed of the change. Businesses in eastern Oklahoma affected by the change voiced their concerns Wednesday during public comment on ONG’s recent rate increase. [Journal Record]

OKC Council sends $1M in technical aid to small businesses: More than $1 million is on its way to small businesses in Oklahoma City in need of technical assistance to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Oklahoma City Council this week voted to set aside the funds to be allocated between July 7 and Dec. 30, 2020 as part of the city’s Small Business Continuity Program. [Journal Record]

Education News

Panola district shutters high school as Epic ends management contract: Epic Charter Schools’ experiment running a rural Oklahoma school district has ended. The Epic company that has managed Panola Public Schools in southeastern Oklahoma since 2017 has notified the district it is terminating its contract two years early. The move wraps up the virtual charter school’s most ambitious effort to assume management of a public school district and bring its blended model to rural communities. It’s unknown if Epic will continue to pursue the strategy with other districts. [Oklahoma Watch]

SNAP benefits heading to thousands of Oklahoma families: The Oklahoma Department of Human Services and the State Department of Education have established a new program to provide extra food benefits to families with children who would have received free or reduced-price meals at school in the spring. DHS officials said the Pandemic Electronic Benefits Transfer program was created to distribute food benefits to families that did not receive them during the 44-day period when public schools closed at the end of the 2019-2020 school year in response to the coronavirus pandemic. [The Oklahoman] Both agencies have been working with Hunger Free Oklahoma (HFO) since the pandemic began to leverage all of the supports and flexibilities authorized by the USDA. [CNHI]

Following ICE announcement, OU and OSU work to ensure international students can stay in the U.S.: Foreign students attending American colleges who take classes entirely online this fall semester cannot remain in the country to do so, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced Monday. But, Oklahoma’s two largest universities are standing behind their international students, and are working to make sure they can stay in the country. [KOSU] Students attending OU on an education visa say they’re facing uncertainty. [Norman Transcript

Tulsa educators share five tips for how teachers, parents can talk about race with kids: In a far-ranging conversation with StateImpact, two Tulsa educators stressed that though it can be intimidating to talk to a child about race issues it’s too important not to. After all, they said, not talking about race and insisting on being colorblind to racial issues is a major contributor to the challenges Tulsa, Oklahoma and the United States face when it comes to racial justice. [StateImpact Oklahoma]

General News

Altus, Blackwell, Wetumka: Interesting local elections you might have missed: Even in a year without a pandemic, local elections often get lost in the shuffle. However, these elections can have large impacts for the residents of cities and counties choosing new representatives, levying new taxes or changing their form of government. On June 30, voters across Oklahoma cast local ballots on school board members, city council positions, county sheriffs and clerks and local propositions. Three of those local elections — in Altus, Blackwell and Wetumka — drew NonDoc’s attention. [NonDoc]

State’s law school deans urge bar examiners to rethink test plan: The deans of Oklahoma’s three law schools are asking the Oklahoma Board of Bar Examiners to consider skipping this summer’s bar examination and grant graduates the right to practice law without passing the test. [Journal Record]

Oklahoma Local News

  • Tulsa resumes installing neighborhood street lights requested by residents [Tulsa World]
  • Downtown housing study recommends more support from City of Tulsa to meet demand [Public Radio Tulsa]
  • OKC Metro organizations offer utility bill payment help [The Oklahoman]
  • Questions arise in Delaware County sheriff’s runoff after second-place candidate posts that he will no longer ‘actively campaign or seek contributions’ [Tulsa World]
  • OSBI serves search warrant for Norman City Councilor’s cell phone [Norman Transcript]

Quote of the Day

“The past two days we’ve had almost 500 cases, and we knew we had several large events a little over two weeks ago — which is about right. So I guess you can connect the dots.”

-Bruce Dart, executive director of the Tulsa Health Department, when asked whether contact tracers were seeing virus cases tied back to Trump’s rally. [Tulsa World]

Number of the Day

$57.02 million

Amount in medical marijuana taxes Oklahoma collected in the months of January through June 2020. By comparison, $54.75 million was collected in all 12 months of 2019. 

[Source: Oklahoma Tax Commission via The Journal Record]

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

The coronavirus economy is exposing how easy it is to fall from the middle class into poverty: For years, many economists and advocates have warned that a large share of Americans are living paycheck to paycheck and that it would take only a slight downturn to devastate their lives. Many of the fastest-growing jobs pay less than $30,000 a year, making it hard to save. Meanwhile, the U.S. safety net developed giant holes. [The Washington Post] 

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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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