In The Know, Weekend: Oklahoma turns to private provider for testing materials; preventing virus spread in prisons, jails; 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.  

New from OK Policy

Joint Statement: Actions to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in Oklahoma’s criminal justice system: Nine Oklahoma organizations have come together to urge elected officials and state officials to take urgent action to manage the serious threat of a COVID-19 outbreak in Oklahoma Corrections facilities. The absence of statewide protocols for all prisons and jails, the current overcrowded conditions of our facilities, and given that incarcerated people have higher rates of underlying health issues (not to mention lack of access to hygiene products) makes these institutions especially susceptible during viral pandemics. [OK Policy]

Oklahoma News

Tired of wait, Oklahoma bypassed FEMA to quickly acquire thousands of COVID-19 virus tests: Oklahoma bypassed federal sources to acquire the chemical substances needed for an additional 10,000 COVID-19 tests, state officials said Friday. Gov. Kevin Stitt and Secretary of Science and Innovation Kayse Shrum said during a video conference the state turned to a private company for the chemicals, called reagents, because the Federal Emergency Management Agency was not responding quickly enough to Oklahoma’s requests. [Tulsa World] The state has procured 10,000 COVID-19 test kits but will continue to prioritize its public health supply for Oklahomans who already are hospitalized or classified as most vulnerable to the virus. [CNHI] State officials have yet to disclose where exactly those locations will be set up and said it’s still limited on who can get tested. [Fox25]

Oklahoma infections keep climbing as national aid package passes: As President Donald Trump signed a $2 trillion coronavirus economic stimulus bill on Friday afternoon to help struggling individuals, businesses, hospitals and governments suffering economic harm, more new cases of COVID-19 were reported in Oklahoma. The state Health Department said there are now 322 positive cases of COVID-19 in Oklahoma, an increase of 84 from the day before. Ninety-four of the total number of cases were reported in Oklahoma County and 39 in Cleveland County. Tulsa County has reported 49. Confirmed cases have now been reported in 38 of Oklahoma’s 77 counties. [The Oklahoman] Coronavirus tracker [Oklahoma Watch] Interactive maps: Known cases of COVID-19 in Oklahoma [The Frontier]

Groups call on Stitt to implement recommendations to keep Oklahoma inmates, correctional staff safe: Nine organizations are calling on Gov. Kevin Stitt to take steps they believe will help protect Oklahoma’s correctional facilities from the COVID-19 pandemic. The groups, including Oklahomans for Criminal Justice Reform, the ACLU Oklahoma chapter and the Oklahoma Conference of Churches, released 10 recommendations. They pointed to Oklahoma’s high incarceration rate and the higher-than-average rate of health problems for those who are incarcerated. [The Oklahoman] Corrections department to provide inmates free antibacterial soap [ODOC Media Statement]

On Oklahoma plains, an island of near normality in a pandemic: In contrast to shuttered businesses and tens of millions of people confined to their homes across America, life seems fairly normal in Guymon, the closest case of coronavirus still more than 100 miles (160 km) away. There is nevertheless fear that COVID-19 may already be here, or will find its way in as workers from Texas, Kansas and other areas of the state commute to jobs in meat processing, feedlots and farms. [New York Times]

Health News

Federal protective equipment supplies for Oklahoma come in short and expired: The Oklahoma State Department of Health has only received a small percentage of PPE equipment requested from a federal stockpile to date, and everything that was sent is technically expired. [KFOR]

Governor bans all but life-saving abortions during crisis: Oklahoma’s governor Friday used his unprecedented emergency powers to ban all but life-saving abortions in the state. Gov. Kevin Stitt said abortion services are part of his issued ban on elective surgeries and minor medical procedures. [CNHI] Officials cited rising demands for hospital beds and a shortage of personal protective equipment as reasoning for the suspension of surgeries. [The Oklahoman] Critics say state officials are using the pandemic as an excuse to “shutter abortion access.” [The Frontier]

Pawnee County group home residents under quarantine following COVID-19 death of sheltered workshop employee: Residents in three Pawnee County group homes for adults with developmental disabilities have been quarantined since last week, following the COVID-19-related death of a man who did work at the homes through a sheltered workshop program there. [The Frontier]

Oklahoma nursing homes, assisted living centers adjust to pandemic guidelines: Gov. Stitt’s recent executive order aims to protect Oklahoma’s most vulnerable residents. The states elderly care facilities are also responding to new guidelines with the pandemic. Just like hospitals, nursing homes are doing their best to keep enough supplies, and keep their residents isolated. [KTUL] Visitors are no longer allowed at VA facilities [CNHI] Coronavirus in Oklahoma: Mike Nunley is shut out of his wife’s assisted-living facility, but it hasn’t stopped his visits [The Oklahoman]

Tulsa World editorial: Oklahoma needs blood, and you can donate safely: Institutions collecting and maintaining Oklahoma’s essential blood supply are worried about falling behind. Community blood drives keep a healthy inventory available for medical emergencies and other serious health complications. [Editorial / Tulsa World]

Coronavirus: What is fact and what is fiction? As coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to spread across the world, the race to get information is fast-paced and constantly evolving. While it is common sense to know you can’t believe everything you read on the internet, sometimes people can’t tell a credible source from a non-credible source. [News9] Editorial: Turn to scientists, medical experts for information. [Editorial / Tahlequah Daily Press]

State Government News

State Supreme Court orders closure of county courthouses to the public: All of Oklahoma’s county courthouses will close to the public to help slow the spread of COVID-19 after a Friday order from the state Supreme Court. This is the Court’s second emergency order within two weeks. [The Oklahoman

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic the Oklahoma Department of Public Safety is announcing the launch of online renewals and replacements for Class D driver licenses and identification cards. [Fox25]

Jewish group criticizes governor for prayer event: The Jewish Federation said Gov. Stitt’s office should have done more to make sure the prayer event represented many faith traditions, not just one. [The Oklahoman]

Opinion: States and cities should brace themselves for a downward spiral: States are facing huge shortages — and not just of ventilators, masks and health-care personnel. They’re about to confront enormous budget shortages, too. This is the sleeper issue of the current economic crisis, and aiding states now could well be the difference between a brief recession and a prolonged depression. Seemingly every state will take a huge hit, for different reasons. Those whose economies are especially dependent on tourism (Florida, Nevada), energy (Texas, Oklahoma) and other hard-hit sectors are in trouble. [Washington Post Opinion]

Federal Government News

“There’s nothing like it in our history”: Oklahoma lawmakers react to CARES Act: The largest, single bill in U.S. history is officially law, after President Trump signed the CARES Act Friday afternoon. The $2.2 trillion piece of legislation is Congress’ response to the growing coronavirus outbreak, and the damage its done on the economy. [Fox25] All five Oklahomans in the U.S. House praised the $2 trillion coronavirus relief bill after its passage on Friday, saying it would speed financial aid to individuals, families, hospitals, businesses and state and local governments. [The Oklahoman] Center for Budget and Policy Priorities: Oklahoma is expected to receive about $1.534 billion in stimulus funds.

Aid package includes $10 billion for struggling airports: The nation’s airports will get $10 billion as part of a $2 trillion coronavirus aid package approved by Congress and signed Friday by the president. The number of passengers going through security checkpoints at Will Rogers World Airport and Tulsa International Airport both are down about 85 percent compared to this time last year. [The Oklahoman] Tulsa International Airport becomes parking lot for unused aircraft downed by coronavirus impact. [Tulsa World]

Economy & Business News

Lankford: Relief coming for small businesses that keep employees on payrolls: Small business owners who keep employees on their payrolls during the coming months could find relief in a loan-to-grant provision included in the $2.2 trillion economic relief package. U.S. Sen. James Lankford said during a conference call Friday morning with Oklahoma journalists the small businesses and nonprofits will have access to $367 billion through the Small Business Administration 7(a) lending program. Loans of up to $10 million used for payroll, utilities or lease payments will be converted to grants if employees remain on the employer’s payroll through June 30. [Muskogee Phoenix]

Oklahoma unemployment claims hit record high: Oklahoma has set a new unemployment record amid the COVID-19 crisis. “Unfortunately, our record here in the state was set back in 1991 with over 9,000 initial claims in one week; of course last week we almost doubled that. We will double last week’s again this week,” an official said. [Fox25] State warns public about unemployment compensation scams [Tulsa World

Oklahoma City Council to vote on small-business relief proposal: The Oklahoma City Council will consider a $5.5 million relief package for small businesses hardest hit by interruptions due to the coronavirus crisis. Funding for COVID-19 business assistance would come from voter-approved economic development bonds. [The Oklahoman] The program is based on research of what other communities are doing nationally and globally to address the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, and marks the first time in modern history the city would be providing an emergency aid package directly to local businesses. [The Journal Record] OKC metro small businesses scraping the bottom of the barrel, hoping OKC relief package passes. [KFOR]

Pitching in during a crisis: Oklahoma businesses retool to provide ventilators, hand sanitizer: Oklahoma businesses are responding in innovative ways to try to help steer the state through a tough time. [The Journal Record]

Criminal Justice News

Tulsa County jail occupancy hits record low as judges, attorneys, police adjust to COVID-19 pandemic: The local court system is adapting to life amid the COVID-19 global pandemic. As of 4 p.m. Friday, the Tulsa County Jail population had decreased roughly 15 percent within a 10-day period — resulting in what’s believed to be a new low of occupancy at the facility. [Tulsa World] A coalition of Oklahoma groups, including OK Policy, have proposed 10 steps for lawmakers and officials to address the spread of COVID-19 in prisons and jails

As complaints pour in, prosecutors target coronavirus fraud, gouging: Hundreds of complaints about coronavirus-related fraud and price gouging have poured into the offices of the Oklahoma attorney general and U.S. attorney for the western district. And that helped prompt the offices to agree to team up to investigate and prosecute fraud artists. [Oklahoma Watch] Here come the frauds: From bogus vaccine kits to ‘silver solution’ [Oklahoma Watch]

Education News

OKC schools serve 82,000 meals in 1st week of closures: Oklahoma City Public Schools has served 82,373 meals in its first week of grab-and-go service. The school district distributed free breakfasts and lunches to children at 42 sites, including all 33 elementary schools in the district and six public parks. [The Oklahoman] Tulsa area schools originally intended to offer meals during the initial two-week mandatory shutdown but now plan to expand their services through the remainder of the school year. [Tulsa World] “Wow, this many people need us”: Tulsa Union’s Ellen Ochoa Elementary School serving up to 3,400 meals a day [Tulsa World TV]

OETA, Dept. of Ed collaborate to bring educational curriculum into the home starting Monday: The Oklahoma Educational Television Authority (OETA) is collaborating with the Oklahoma State Department of Education (OSDE) to provide in-home learning opportunities for students. The goal is to bring parents, students and teachers together with content and curriculum to meet educational needs while schools are closed due to coronavirus. [Shawnee News-Star] Students do not need to have internet to get the new programming, officials said. [NewsOn6] State Department Of Education creates distance learning resource page [News9] OK Policy has noted that education is a civil rights issues, and state officials should be exploring all options that provide equitable education solutions to all Oklahoma students, regardless of the resources that they have available.

OKCPS closes classrooms; education to continue at students’ homes: The Oklahoma City Public Schools board voted today to shutter schools and continue students’ education at their homes. Students will utilize online instruction when possible. For those without internet access or computers, the district has printed materials to hand out. [KOCO] OKC schools planning lesson packets at meal sites, virtual learning. [The Oklahoman]

Court hearing delayed in State Auditor’s quest for records of Epic Charter Schools spending: Coronavirus mitigation efforts forced the delay of a court hearing set for this week in the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office’s quest to get Epic Charter Schools’ for-profit operator to comply with the state’s investigative audit. Meanwhile, the state’s largest virtual charter school has had teachers recruiting new students on social media and is offering assistance to traditional-school teachers grappling with how to provide remote learning opportunities for the remainder of the 2019-20 academic year. [Tulsa World]

General News

Tribal gaming official rejects Oklahoma governor’s offer: The state’s top Native American gaming official rejected Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt’s latest casino gambling offer on Friday and accused the governor of trying to take advantage of the tribes during the coronavirus pandemic. [AP / The Oklahoman] Member nations have rejected what is being called an offer of compromise in a dispute over state-tribal gaming compacts, calling the measure “disrespectful and disingenuous.” [Tulsa World] Attorneys representing the state of Oklahoma have sent a new 15-year gaming compact proposal to at least six tribal nations. [NonDoc]

Citing virus, EPA has stopped enforcing environmental laws: The Environmental Protection Agency has abruptly waived enforcement on a range of legally mandated public health and environmental protections, saying industries could have trouble complying with them during the coronavirus pandemic. [OK Energy Today]

Former U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn dies at 72: A physician who became a powerful force in Congress on fiscal matters, former U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn died early Saturday morning after a long fight with prostate cancer. He was 72. [The Oklahoman] ‘Profound impact’: Oklahomans recall Sen. Tom Coburn [NonDoc]

Oklahoma Local News

  • OKC Mayor fills in MAPS 4 details in time of pandemic [The Oklahoman]
  • OKC couple donates tens of thousands of medical masks to local hospitals [News9]
  • Tulsa World virtual forum focuses on local response [Tulsa World]
  • No, Tulsa police are not checking for worker papers [Tulsa World]
  • Norman hospital in dire need of PPE, homemade masks limited to certain patients [Norman Transcript]
  • Accentuate the positive in times of uncertainty [The Oklahoman]
  • Commanche County Health Department answers questions [Lawton Constitution]
  • Stillwater: When public safety competes with personal freedoms [Stillwater NewsPress]

Quote of the Day

“It’s almost like we’re detached from reality. Nobody can believe it is going to happen here. We watch it on TV and just hope it doesn’t come here.”

-Guymon hairdresser Rick French about the spread of coronavirus [New York Times]

Number of the Day


Approximate number of grab-and-go breakfasts and lunches for students distributed in one week by Oklahoma’s two largest school public districts — Oklahoma City and Tulsa.

[Sources: The Oklahoman and Tulsa World]  

See previous Numbers of the Day here.

Policy Note

Restaurants and hotels are putting workers on ‘zero hour schedules.’ Here’s how you can get unemployment benefits even if you’re not officially laid off. But even workers who are on zero hour schedules or who are furloughed are eligible for unemployment benefits, according to Andrew Stettner, a senior fellow at The Century Foundation. “The only requirement for unemployment benefits is [that] you had zero earnings in the prior week and your employer didn’t offer you any hours,” Stettner told Business Insider. “The question isn’t whether you’re employed, it’s whether you’re working.” [Business Insider]

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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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