In 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
Workers need Paid Family and Medical Leave all the time, not just during a public health emergency: The current coronavirus pandemic makes it clear that paid leave, including paid family and medical leave, is a key employee benefit. The lack of this benefit is difficult even in the best of times, and it can be catastrophic during a public health emergency such as the one we’re facing now. Some states have already stepped up to provide paid family and medical leave to their residents, and Oklahoma should join their ranks. [Courtney Cullison / OK Policy]
More than a quarter of Oklahoma residents firmly under shelter-in-place orders: Over a quarter of Oklahoma residents are firmly under shelter-in-place orders after Oklahoma City and Tulsa issued decrees Saturday formally restricting residents from leaving their homes for anything but essentials. The announcements came days after Gov. Kevin Stitt issued a safer-at-home order, which specifically required the elderly and other at-risk groups to stay home except for essential errands. Stitt’s order did not use the phrase “shelter in place,” and OKC Mayor David Holt said this meant the order wasn’t as effective as possible. [The Oklahoman]
- Stitt lifts training requirements for peace officers, bans state-paid interstate travel. [Tulsa World]
- OKC formalizes ‘shelter in place,’ what it means [The Oklahoman]
- ‘Not a recommendation:’ Mayor G.T. Bynum issues shelter-in-place order for Tulsans through April 16 [Tulsa World]
- Mayor G.T. Bynum: Bad part of pandemic is yet to come, but there are three reasons for optimism [Op-Ed / Tulsa World]
As hospitals tend to hundreds of patients, state officials plan for more: As Oklahoma hospitals tended to hundreds of patients confirmed or suspected to have COVID-19, the Stitt administration worked Saturday on a plan for how to accommodate a surge of people with serious symptoms. A state official said hospitals are submitting plans on how they will increase their ICU capacities by 40 percent, and officials will begin looking for additional sites where the state could expand hospital locations across the state, either hospitals that were closed or new facilities. [The Oklahoman] The number of deaths in Oklahoma from complications related to COVID-19 nearly doubled, from 8 to 15, in the count released by the Oklahoma State Department of Health on Saturday. Confirmed cases, totaling 377, have now been reported in 40 counties, just over half of the state’s 77 counties. [Oklahoma Watch]
Tribes battle coronavirus, much like state and federal government: Gov. Kevin Stitt isn’t the only head of a government in Oklahoma scrambling to bolster a health care system, rework a disintegrating budget and provide leadership to citizens as they struggle to cope with a virus that is threatening their physical and economic health. The leaders of Oklahoma’s 38 federally recognized Indian tribes are facing those same challenges. It could be argued that the task is even more daunting for tribes, since many rely heavily on revenues from tribal casinos that their leaders have ordered temporarily shut down in an effort to slow the rapid spread of COVID-19. [The Oklahoman]
Small town battled coronavirus on its own, as outbreak spread: Epidemiologist Mark Brandenburg saw the threat months ago: The data coming out of China signaled that this could be “the pandemic we had feared for a long time.” The chief medical officer of a small hospital in Bristow, Brandenburg didn’t wait for orders from the federal government or direction from the statehouse. By mid-February, he had launched a citizens’ response team to prepare the community for the novel coronavirus’s arrival. [Washington Post]
As COVID-19 cases spread, state officials release few local details: the paucity of localized information about Oklahoma’s positive COVID-19 cases have left some residents and officials frustrated. Ponca City Mayor Homer Nicholson said the state health department is not providing city-level data, even to local officials. With 45,000 residents, Kay County has one of the highest infection rates in the state per capita. [Oklahoma Watch]
Amid pandemic, mental health services still available for those in need: For some, living in isolation amid the coronavirus pandemic can be a minor inconvenience, or simply cause boredom. For others, with underlying mental health issues, the anxiety and isolation surrounding the pandemic can be crippling. Practitioners and state officials are letting residents know that mental health services still are available, either through telemedicine or, when necessary, at state clinics. [CNHI] During the COVID-19 crisis, consider your mental health [Commentary / NonDoc]
State Government News
Lawmakers continue to work while session is on hold: Oklahoma’s 147 legislators may not be meeting under the big dome at the Capitol or voting on legislation, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t working. Even in normal times, the biggest part of most legislators’ jobs is acting as a conduit between constituents and not only state government, but often local and federal government as well. Now, in the midst of a viral outbreak that is causing almost hourly changes in daily life, that role has become even more important. [Tulsa World]
Some wonder if state officials are taking outbreak seriously enough: State leaders faced increasing criticism they weren’t taking the state’s worsening COVID-19 outbreak seriously enough. Critics say Oklahoma officials are failing to take the necessary steps to slow the spread of the deadly virus threatening to overwhelm the state’s health care system and kill hundreds of citizens. While other states have issued mandatory stay-home and shelter-in-place orders and nightly curfews, Oklahoma continues to resist such calls and instead implemented a patchwork of regulations that vary from one county to another. [CNHI]
Altered Lives: Teachers like Lanier’s Akela Leach ache for their students during pandemic: As Oklahoma public schools adopt distance learning models to both continue to educate students and protect against COVID-19, the word “distance” hits hard. “One moment you are with these kids every single day and you become like a caretaker away from home,” said Akela Leach, a fifth grade teacher at Tulsa’s Lanier Elementary, “and then you’re just separated.” [Tulsa World]
Economy & Business News
Hotels closing as hospitality industry faces historic hit: Hotels across Oklahoma City are starting to close their doors as travel has come to a near standstill and shelter-in-place orders are being announced in response the growing coronavirus pandemic. Jeff Penner, director of the Oklahoma City Hotel Association, calls the hit to the industry unprecedented, worse than the economic turmoil during the 1980s oil bust. “Occupancy is down to 10 percent,” Penner said. “You can’t pay the bills at 10 percent.” [The Oklahoman]
Real estate, housing industry adjusting to coronavirus, stay-at-home orders: The spread of COVID-19 and stay-at-home orders issued locally and across the state are impacting many businesses, including the housing industry. [Norman Transcript] A Muskogee real estate agent said the home sales market was going “gangbusters” until the world began shutting down two weeks ago. [Muskogee Phoenix]
As service, entertainment industries shutter, workers ask ‘What next?’: The COVID-19 pandemic is wreaking havoc on Oklahoma City’s large service and entertainment industry. As restaurants, venues and bars are required to close to the public, many employees and artists have seen hours and wages cut. [The Oklahoman]
Oklahoma unemployment claims increase 865%: Oklahoma unemployment claims increased by 865% last week as thousands of Oklahomans filed for unemployment amid the state’s worsening COVID-19 outbreak. The state set a record with 17,720 Oklahomans filing for unemployment just last week. That represented an increase of 15,884 claims over the prior week, according the Oklahoma Employment Security Commission. [CNHI]
Party affiliation change deadline approaches: The deadline for registered voters to change their party affiliation for the upcoming statewide primary and runoff primary elections is March 31, State Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax said. By statute, changing party affiliation is not allowed from April 1 through August 31. All requests to change party affiliation submitted after March 31 will be processed September 1. Voters can change their party affiliation online using the OK Voter Portal at elections.ok.gov or by completing a new Oklahoma Voter Registration Application and mailing it to their County Election Board. Applications can be downloaded at elections.ok.gov. Applications are also available at County Election Boards, most tag agencies, post offices, and libraries. [CNHI]
Census participation urged during coronavirus response: Disruptions and distractions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic must not be allowed to keep Oklahomans from participating in the Census, officials said. The formal launch of the centennial head count is still scheduled for April 1, although bureau workers have already been working on counting difficult-to-track populations such as the homeless and transients. Typically, Census workers are sent into the field for follow-up surveys when residents don’t respond. The COVID-19 illness is making the process more difficult than usual. [Stillwater NewsPress / CNHI] Muskogee officials said city and community partners will continue their outreach efforts. [Muskogee Phoenix / CNHI] How the coronavirus could impact the 2020 Census. [Business Insider]
Quote of the Day
“Many kids can do a lot online. The concern is access. A lot of kids may not have access to a computer or access to the internet. And even if students do have access, we have IEPs (Individual Education Programs), we have ELL (English Language Learners) students … And the access isn’t just internet, it’s access also to an adult who can help them.”
-Akela Leach, a fifth grade teacher at Tulsa’s Lanier Elementary, speaking about the pivot to distance learning [Tulsa World]
Number of the Day
Percentage of employees who needed family or medical leave but did not take it because they could not afford unpaid time off. Not being able to afford it was the most common reason given for not taking leave.
Latest coronavirus response package doesn’t boost SNAP — the next one should: The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act doesn’t expand benefits or eligibility under SNAP (food stamps). Policymakers must address this limitation in their next stimulus measure, both to help the growing number of families struggling to afford food in the pandemic and because SNAP is one of the fastest, most effective forms of economic stimulus. [Center on Budget and Policy Priorities]
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