In The Know: Virus hospitalizations surging | Schools vary on reopening models, mask requirements | ‘A day without taxes…’

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.

Oklahoma News

Surge in coronavirus hospitalizations raises concerns among health officials: As Oklahoma’s coronavirus case counts continue to break records, some of the state’s top medical experts are ringing alarm bells about hospital capacity. The state broke yet another daily new case record on Tuesday, surpassing 900 for the first time. Total cases are nearing 22,000. About 500 people are in the hospital being treated for coronavirus. [StateImpact Oklahoma]

  • New cases set another record, while hospitalizations fall just short of previous high [The Oklahoman]
  • Confirmed coronavirus cases in Oklahoma rise by record 993 [AP News]
  • 993 new cases breaks single-day record; young Tulsa County woman among 4 deaths [Tulsa World]
  • Oklahoma reports new records in active COVID-19 cases, single-day case increase, and hospitalizations [Sandite Pride News]
  • Health care officials want universal mask usage — some not sure about a mandate [Enid News & Eagle]
  • State Rep. Lowe calls on Gov. Stitt to mandate masks as COVID-19 cases rise [FOX25]
  • Daily virus numbers can be found at 

OKC Public Schools to require masks: Oklahoma City Public Schools has changed its stance on a student mask mandate. District administrators will recommend a mask requirement for all students in fifth through 12th grade to protect from COVID-19. Officials initially planned to require only staff and visitors to wear face coverings. [The Oklahoman]

Health News

Why Oklahoma voters put Medicaid expansion in their constitution: Oklahoma is the first state to approve Medicaid expansion during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has led to dramatic growth in unemployment. Around 47.5 million people are at risk of losing their employer-based insurance nationwide because of the pandemic, according to a study cited in a recent JAMA Health Forum report. [American Medical Association]

States facing COVID-19 spikes report greatest health insurance coverage losses: Job losses between February and May 2020 due to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic resulted in 5.4 million Americans losing their health insurance, according to a recent report from Families USA. [American Journal of Managed Care]

OKC ranked last, Tulsa 97th in American Fitness Index: Oklahoma City was ranked 100th in the annual American Fitness Index rankings of the nation’s 100 largest cities published by the American College of Sports Medicine and the Anthem Foundation, the philanthropic arm of Anthem Inc. [Journal Record]

Tulsa’s proposed mask ordinance faces hurdles as it heads to City Council on Wednesday: Mayor G.T. Bynum’s proposal to establish an ordinance requiring Tulsans 18 and older to wear face coverings in public to help slow the spread of COVID-19 goes to the City Council on Wednesday. What happens after that is anyone’s guess. Councilor Phil Lakin said he would be surprised if the proposal is voted on Wednesday. [Tulsa World] Proposed Tulsa mask requirement would apply only to adults. [Public Radio Tulsa] Editorial: It’s time for the Tulsa City Council to pass a face mask requirement [Editorial / Tulsa World]

Op-Ed: Wearing a mask – a choice to protect the community: “I’ve tried to understand reasons for not wearing them, such as masks violate my civil liberties, no one has the right to tell me to wear one, it’s God’s will whether I get sick, or the pandemic is overhyped. But the excuses for not wearing masks in public are growing old, especially when we hear and read about the growing number of scientists, doctors, medical professionals and others who tell us of their importance or provide examples of wearing them.” [Op-Ed / Journal Record]

State Government News

Stitt lashes out as pick to run land office is approved in special meeting: Gov. Kevin Stitt accused employees of the Commissioners of the Land Office of playing politics after his pick to run the agency was approved in a special meeting Tuesday morning where two of the five commissioners were absent. [Oklahoma Watch] While the Commissioners of the Land Office (CLO) is not a well-known state agency, it is a financially important one. The CLO manages 750,000 surface acres, 1.2 million mineral acres, more than 640,000 square feet of commercial real estate and $2.3 billion of invested funds for the benefit of K-12 schools in Oklahoma, as well as designated higher education institutions. Last fiscal year the CLO distributed $96.3 million to K-12 schools and $30.6 to higher education. [The Oklahoman]

Legislative leaders file new lawsuit against Gov. Kevin Stitt: Leaders of the Oklahoma Legislature filed a new lawsuit against Gov. Kevin Stitt Tuesday, again accusing him of exceeding his gubernatorial authority by signing tribal gaming compacts that violate state law. Treat and McCall filed the new lawsuit in response to gaming compacts that Stitt signed July 1 with the United Keetowah Band of Cherokee Indians and the Kialegee Tribal Town. The legislative leaders earlier sued Stitt over gaming compacts he signed April 22 with the Comanche Nation and Otoe-Missouria Tribe. [The Oklahoman]

OESC interim director speaks about upcoming Tulsa claims event, fraud and agency efforts: Shelley Zumwalt, interim director of the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission, spoke with Public Radio Tulsa about the agency’s claims processing event at Expo Square this week, improving the agency’s technology, dealing with fraudulent claims, making sure unemployment is a temporary stopgap and not a disincentive for Oklahomans to return to work, and more. [Public Radio Tulsa] The state agency that handles unemployment insurance claims will be providing in-person help to filers Wednesday and Thursday at the Tulsa fairgrounds. [Tulsa World] Hundreds seeking unemployment claims help fill Expo Square [Tulsa World] Two more dates set for unemployment claims help at Expo Square [Tulsa World]

Criminal Justice News

Video shows Oklahoma officers using stun guns on non-combative man more than 50 times in nine minutes: Video showing two Oklahoma police officers using a stun gun against a non-combative man more than 50 times before the man was choked and later died was released on Tuesday by attorneys representing the man’s family. [The Frontier]

Oklahoma City recently adopted six police-focused reforms. Here’s what is next: A soon-to-be-announced study group will spend the next year examining six police reforms approved by the Oklahoma City City Council in June. The six reforms came out of recent conversations after protests against police brutality swept the country. Many of the reforms expand upon existing programs or include ideas that match long-time, ongoing conversations at the police department on how to implement new concepts. [The Oklahoman]

AIM takes aim at CLEET: American Indian Movement members and some of their supporters marched in Ada on Friday to the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training facility. The march was intended to raise awareness of police handling of Native Americans. [Ada News]

Opinion: Gains possible with OKC task force on police: A mayor’s task force on police matters includes two members, John George and Garland Pruitt, whose views of police staffing levels could not be more different, but their willingness to serve on the panel may bode well for whatever recommendations result. The task force is studying de-escalation, citizen oversight and other issues that have arisen since George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police in May. [Opinion / The Oklahoman]

Economic Opportunity

Yearly count reveals homeless numbers holding steady in Tulsa: Homelessness remained relatively flat in Tulsa this year with an annual headcount finding 1,188 individuals staying in shelters or living on this streets, officials said Tuesday. [Tulsa World]

Economy & Business News

Corporation Commission debates backlog of cases: With new cases of COVID-19 reaching an all-time high, the Oklahoma Corporation Commission is working to safely resume in-person court proceedings. But Commissioner Bob Anthony wants it known that if progress is slowed on some proceedings, there are more factors in play than the challenges posed by the coronavirus. [The Journal Record] The Corporation Commission regulates public utilities, oil and gas operations as well as the storage and dispensing of fuels. The state agency has been closed to the public since March 22 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since then, its court system held 3,111 remote hearings. [Tahlequah Daily Press]

Ranchers and consumers both win as direct beef sales climb across America: The availability of direct-to-consumer food isn’t a new idea, but the integration of technology and a widening base of health-conscious consumers has allowed the niche market to expand. [The Oklahoman]

Education News

Virtual Charter School Board to join legal fight for Epic’s spending records: The agency overseeing the state’s virtual schools will join the legal battle to pry free some of Epic Charter Schools’ financial records. At issue is more than $69 million in state funds that Epic has spent since 2015 through its “learning fund,” which is intended to purchase technology, curriculum, supplemental items and extracurricular activities that students request. The fund is a key recruitment tool for Epic, whose enrollment has soared in recent years, to more than 30,000. The funds are transferred to Epic Youth Services, which maintains it doesn’t have to provide records because it is a private company.  [Oklahoma Watch] This month marks a full year since Gov. Kevin Stitt requested an investigative audit of Epic and all of its related entities by State Auditor and Inspector Cindy Byrd. Byrd has yet to issue any report of findings in the matter, which landed in district court in March over Epic’s lack of compliance with her public records requests and administrative subpoenas. [Tulsa World]

Op-Ed: Three cheers for the OSU Board of Regents: When, in the face of heated opposition, government officials do the right thing, we should express our gratitude. That’s why I say a heartfelt “Thank you” to the OSU/A&M Regents and President Burns Hargis for removing the name of former Gov. William H. “Alfalfa Bill” Murray from two buildings at the gateway to the Oklahoma State University campus. [Andy Lester Op-Ed / The Oklahoman]

Op-Ed: Why push public schools to open without helping them open safely?: As the coronavirus continues to wreak havoc across the United States, some public K-12 schools may be able to reopen safely, but doing so will not be cheap. A recent report from the Council of Chief State School Officers estimated that public K-12 schools will need as much as $245 billion in additional funding to open with the recommended protocols in place from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yet with local and state budgets strapped, many schools are likely to fall short unless they receive considerable federal support. [Op-Ed / New York Times]

General News

Coronavirus pandemic threatens accurate census count for Native American tribes: Vernon Livingston found his 2020 census packet strewn on the ground three weeks ago outside his home on the Navajo Nation, presuming it had blown away after someone dropped it off. [NBC]

Archaeologists extend Oaklawn test site in search of 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre victims: Archaeologists began widening their test site in Oaklawn Cemetery on Tuesday afternoon as they searched for clues to the location of unmarked burials from Tulsa’s 1921 Race Massacre. [Tulsa World] In May, Human Rights Watch released a report describing how in the decades since the 1921 massacre, city officials obstructed Greenwood’s rebuilding, and government policies, including abusive policing practices, have prevented Black people in Greenwood and the broader North Tulsa community from thriving. [Human Rights Watch]

Opinion: Downtown OKC’s grandest avenue tainted by the racist history of the man it’s named for: “What still surprises me is how complacent our community is about honoring a man whose life was every bit as bigoted and deadly as the Confederates who betrayed our country and fought to preserve slavery… That street, Sheridan Avenue, is the corridor that is now the pride of the city — home to Film Row, Devon Energy Center, the Myriad Botanical Gardens, Bricktown and numerous hotels, restaurants, bars, apartments and entertainment venues.” [Op-Ed / The Oklahoman]

Editorial: Congress, do your job: Help Americans without one: Congress recognized this reality in March when it responded to the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic by increasing unemployment benefits. But the expansion expires at the end of this month, even as the pandemic continues to rage. Congress, after dragging its feet for months, has all but run out of time to prevent a lapse in the distribution of extra aid. The nation’s elected representatives need to act immediately to extend emergency benefits, and to authorize the extra aid to continue for the duration of the crisis. [The New York Times Editorial Board

Oklahoma Local News

  • Norman recreation center closes through July 27 following positive employee COVID-19 test [The Oklahoman]
  • Cherokees offer technology, clothing funding [The Oklahoman]
  • ‘This virus can impact anyone’: Tulsa toddler battles coronavirus [Tulsa World]
  • Lawton City Council studying idea of citywide mask requirement [Lawton Constitution]
  • Altus enacts mandatory mask law [Lawton Constitution]

Quote of the Day

“Now I’ve called them at least 200 times and got hung up on probably 150 times, been on hold for at least two hours every time… I have five teenagers, and I’m the sole provider for my family. I have all this money on this card that is unusable. We’ve already got our car repo’ed; we’re getting ready to be evicted. I mean, this is serious.”

-Michelle Boyce of Berryhill , who arrived at Tulsa’s River Spirit Expo at 4 a.m. Wednesday to get a ticket for an appointment with the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission. She was No. 135 out of the 400 that were given out for today’s event. She said she received a debit card from the state’s third-party vendor, but it wouldn’t work. [Tulsa World]

Number of the Day

$3.565 billion

Net amount of individual income tax collected by the State of Oklahoma in 2018-2019

[Source: Oklahoma Tax Commission]

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

A day without taxes… I’m not a fan of tax day. Who is? After several tortuous weeks of determining whether I have excess distributions from my 529 plan and deciding how much I owe to the two states I lived in last year, I’m in line at the post office to send all these forms and too many checks to too many different governments. I’ve had it. Why can’t we make society work without taxes? [OK Policy]

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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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