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Coronavirus In Oklahoma: The Latest

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KOSU is covering the coronavirus in Oklahoma and how it's affecting our lives. Bookmark this page for the latest updates.

The journalists at KOSU are proud to bring you trustworthy and relevant reporting about the coronavirus. If you find this work valuable, please consider supporting us with a financial gift. Here's how.

Here are a few more posts you may be interested in:

Live coronavirus updates:

2,124 New Coronavirus Infections In Oklahoma

Updated September 17 at 12:03 p.m.

2,124 new infections of the coronavirus were confirmed in Oklahoma on Friday, for a total of 592,074 since March 2020.

Oklahoma is reporting an average of 2,109 infections per day in the past week.

Oklahoma's Provisional Death Count, which reflects COVID-19 deaths based on death certificates, stands at 9,748. That's an increase of 47 deaths from the previous day's report.

Just 46 percent of Oklahoma's population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, placing Oklahoma in the bottom 12 states for vaccine rollout.

Free In-School COVID Testing Available In Oklahoma

Updated September 17 at 3:58 a.m.

Oklahoma schools are getting the chance for free in-school COVID-19 testing.

The Oklahoman reports the program by the State Department of Health launched this week through a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

School districts can choose to opt-in, and the program is optional for the parents of schools wishing to participate.

Since classes started this fall, school-aged kids have made up as much as 25 percent of new COVID-19 cases.

2,263 New Coronavirus Infections In Oklahoma

Updated September 16 at 11:19 a.m.

2,263 new infections of the coronavirus were confirmed in Oklahoma on Thursday, for a total of 589,950 since March 2020.

Oklahoma is reporting an average of 2,181 infections per day in the past week.

Oklahoma's Provisional Death Count, which reflects COVID-19 deaths based on death certificates, stands at 9,701. That's an increase of 59 deaths from the previous day's report.

Just 45.9 percent of Oklahoma's population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, placing Oklahoma in the bottom 12 states for vaccine rollout.

Eviction Applications Close Due To Backlog

Updated September 16 at 10:47 a.m.

A non-profit contracted by the state to distribute the majority of federal emergency funds for housing has closed applications to the public for six weeks in the hopes of catching up on 13,000 backlogged requests, according to a report by Oklahoma Watch.

Community Cares Partners was created to distribute $244 million in federal rental and utility assistance to Oklahomans. According to a spokesperson, the organization has been receiving an average of 400 applications a day, and Oklahomans on the eviction docket can still apply to the program.

The National Equity Atlas estimates 95,000 Oklahoma households are behind on rent.

Oklahoma Medical Groups Expand Free Therapy Program For Doctors Amid COVID-19 Fallout

Updated September 16 at 8:57 a.m.

Doctors have long seen high rates of mental health struggles, and the pandemic has only piled on. StateImpact’s Catherine Sweeney reports that across Oklahoma, physicians have a new place to go for help.

1,966 New Coronavirus Infections In Oklahoma

Updated September 15 at 11:12 a.m.

1,966 new infections of the coronavirus were confirmed in Oklahoma on Wednesday, for a total of 587,687 since March 2020.

Oklahoma is reporting an average of 2,209 infections per day in the past week.

Oklahoma's Provisional Death Count, which reflects COVID-19 deaths based on death certificates, stands at 9,642. That's an increase of 42 deaths from the previous day's report.

Just 45.7 percent of Oklahoma's population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, placing Oklahoma in the bottom 12 states for vaccine rollout.

1,029 New Coronavirus Infections In Oklahoma

Updated September 14 at 1:35 p.m.

1,029 new infections of the coronavirus were confirmed in Oklahoma on Tuesday, for a total of 585,721 since March 2020.

Oklahoma is reporting an average of 2,114 infections per day in the past week.

Oklahoma's Provisional Death Count, which reflects COVID-19 deaths based on death certificates, stands at 9,600. That's an increase of 34 deaths from the previous day's report.

Just 45.6 percent of Oklahoma's population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, placing Oklahoma in the bottom 12 states for vaccine rollout.

Deer Creek Schools To Require Masks

Updated September 14 at 3:43 a.m.

The Deer Creek Board of Education voted unanimously Monday to require masks for students and staff effective Thursday. The district says students can opt-out for medical, religious or personal reasons. Changes are also being made to the district’s quarantine guidance. Officials say quarantine for close contact will no longer be required but rather highly recommended.

Another Oklahoma Educator Dies After Contracting COVID-19

Updated September 13 at 3:57 p.m.

A teacher's aide who worked at Yukon’s Skyview Elementary School died Sunday after a battle with COVID-19.

Erin Rhodes had worked in Yukon schools for six years and was most recently a pre-kindergarten aide at Skyview Elementary. The 41-year-old is at least the fifth Oklahoma educator or school support staff member to pass away after contracting the coronavirus since July.

In a statement released to reporters Monday, Yukon’s superintendent Jason Simeroth expressed sadness in the wake of Rhodes' passing. He said the Yukon community will rally together to support her family.

"There is no way that we can express the sadness that we have as a district when we lose one of our own," Simeroth said.

A GoFundMe Memorial fund has been established to defray the Rhodes family's medical costs and funeral expenses. She leaves behind two children and a husband, who is a teacher and coach in the Yukon school district.

As of Friday, Yukon Public Schools reported 100 active COVID cases among students and staff, and 671 active quarantines. The district began requiring masks, with opt-outs, on Wednesday.

Oklahoma Medical Officials: Flu Season Could Be Worse Than Last

Updated September 13 at 11:30 a.m.

Last year, the flu season was relatively mild across the United States thanks to COVID-19 mitigation efforts that included wearing masks, social distancing and washing hands often.

Dr. Dale Bratzler, OU’s Chief COVID-19 officer, says flu season could be worse this year because many people haven’t been exposed to the most recent variant of the influenza virus.

"One of the big concerns that most of us have is, if we go back to not wearing masks and not doing good hand hygiene and social distancing and we have a flu outbreak then it will spread just like we saw with Delta," said Bratzler.

He says this could be a big concern as hospitals are already at full capacity dealing with the coronavirus pandemic. He advises to keep wearing masks during the holiday season and to get a flu shot as well.

The CDC says it is safe for people to take the flu shot and the COVID-19 vaccine at the same time.

1,889 New Coronavirus Infections In Oklahoma

Updated September 13 at 11:12 a.m.

1,889 new infections of the coronavirus were confirmed in Oklahoma on Monday, for a total of 584,692 since March 2020.

Oklahoma is reporting an average of 2,260 infections per day in the past week.

Oklahoma's Provisional Death Count, which reflects COVID-19 deaths based on death certificates, stands at 9,566. That's an increase of 70 deaths from the previous day's report.

Just 45.5 percent of Oklahoma's population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, placing Oklahoma in the bottom 12 states for vaccine rollout.

Oklahoma AG Appeals Mask Mandate In Schools Injunction

Updated September 13 at 3:14 a.m.

Oklahoma Attorney General John O'Connor is appealing a state judge's temporary injunction that prohibits the state from banning mask mandates in public schools.

The Associated Press reports the appeal filed Thursday says the state is immune from the lawsuit and that the Legislature may pass laws governing public schools while not regulating private schools.

District Judge Natalie Mai cited the fact the law did not apply to private schools in approving the temporary injunction. Mai's ruling allows for exemptions to mask requirements for medical or personal reasons.

Tulsa's Union Public Schools Puts In Mask Mandate

Updated September 13 at 3:10 a.m.

Tulsa's Union Public Schools is joining the list of districts across the state to add a mask mandate.

Starting on Wednesday, all students, staff and visitors are required to wear face coverings inside district buildings. Exemptions can be requested in writing for medical reasons, strongly held personal beliefs or on religious grounds.

State Impact’s Robby Korth is compiling an updated list on all schools with mask mandates here.

2,627 New Coronavirus Infections In Oklahoma

Updated September 10 at 12:54 p.m.

2,627 new infections of the coronavirus were confirmed in Oklahoma on Friday, for a total of 577,312 since March 2020.

Oklahoma is reporting an average of 2,352 infections per day in the past week.

Oklahoma's Provisional Death Count, which reflects COVID-19 deaths based on death certificates, stands at 9,496. That's an increase of 81 deaths from the previous day's report.

Just 45 percent of Oklahoma's population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, placing Oklahoma in the bottom 12 states for vaccine rollout.

Stitt: 'No Government Vaccine Mandates In Oklahoma'

Updated September 10 at 2:53 a.m.

Some of Oklahoma's top politicians are condemning President Biden's recent decision to require vaccines in most workplaces.

Senator James Lankford released a statement Thursday saying "the Biden proposal ignores... millions of Americans that do not want to be forced to take a vaccine for a multitude of personal, religious, and medical reasons."

Governor Kevin Stitt said in a statement, "As long as I am governor, there will be no government vaccine mandates in Oklahoma."

Oklahoma Attorney General John O'Connor says he's preparing litigation to challenge President Biden's new COVID-19 vaccine mandates.

On Thursday, the White House announced upcoming regulations from the Department of Labor requiring businesses with more than 100 employees to make sure all of their workers are vaccinated, or tested weekly.

Report: Oklahoma Lawmaker Hospitalized With COVID-19

Updated September 10 at 12:59 a.m.

An Oklahoma lawmaker has been hospitalized with COVID-19.

A state capitol source confirmed to The Daily Ardmoreite that Representative Tommy Hardin was in the hospital, but no other details about his condition or location were immediately available.

Other news sources say Hardin is possibly receiving care at the Texoma Medical Center in Dennison, Texas.

The Madill Republican was among other GOP lawmakers over the summer to oppose vaccine mandates by businesses and hospitals.

See Which Oklahoma Schools Are Requiring Masks With Opt-Out Provisions

Updated September 9 at 12:21 p.m.

A judge’s injunction suspending part of the law that effectively bans mask mandates in Oklahoma Public Schools officially went into effect late Wednesday.

The order signed by Oklahoma County District Court Judge Natalie Mai allows schools to continue requiring masks.

A StateImpact tally shows about 20 public school districts — and about two dozen private and tribal schools to which the statute doesn’t apply — have some form of mask mandate in place. The vast majority offer opt out provisions.

2,462 New Coronavirus Infections In Oklahoma

Updated September 9 at 11:51 a.m.

2,462 new infections of the coronavirus were confirmed in Oklahoma on Thursday, for a total of 574,685 since March 2020.

Oklahoma is reporting an average of 2,416 infections per day in the past week.

Oklahoma's Provisional Death Count, which reflects COVID-19 deaths based on death certificates, stands at 9,415. That's an increase of 45 from the previous day's report.

Just 44.9 percent of Oklahoma's population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, placing Oklahoma in the bottom 12 states for vaccine rollout.

Coronavirus Pandemic Causes Lagging Kindergarten And Pre-K Enrollments In Oklahoma

Updated September 9 at 9:34 a.m.

Early childhood education is something Oklahoma has traditionally done well. But as parents fear the effects of COVID-19 on their youngest children, the state is seeing a steep drop in the number of students enrolled in Pre-K and kindergarten programs.

OKC Memorial Marathon Participants Will Need To Be Vaccinated

Updated September 9 at 3:16 a.m.

The Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon will require participants to provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test result within 72 hours of the race. The race has also been capped at 12,000 participants, which is 50 percent of the runners who took part in the event in 2019. The marathon takes place October 2nd and 3rd.

1,300 New Coronavirus Infections In Oklahoma

Updated September 8 at 11:19 a.m.

1,300 new infections of the coronavirus were confirmed in Oklahoma on Wednesday, for a total of 572,223 since March 2020.

Oklahoma is reporting an average of 2,532 infections per day in the past week.

Oklahoma's Provisional Death Count, which reflects COVID-19 deaths based on death certificates, stands at 9,370. That's an increase of two from the previous day's report.

Just 44.7 percent of Oklahoma's population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, placing Oklahoma in the bottom 12 states for vaccine rollout.

Mid-Del Schools To Require Masks

Updated September 8 at 3:34 a.m.

Face masks will be required in the Mid-Del Schools. The Mid-Del Schools Board of Education voted Tuesday to require masks for students and staff. District employees and students will be able to opt out for health, religious or personal reasons.

The policy will remain in effect through the end of the first semester unless the board changes the mandate or if a court ruling reinstates a state law preventing school districts from imposing mask mandates.

2,049 New Coronavirus Infections In Oklahoma

Updated September 7 at 1:18 p.m.

3,080 new infections of the coronavirus were confirmed in Oklahoma on Tuesday, for a total of 570,923 since March 2020.

The state also reported the following totals over the holiday weekend:

  • Monday, Sept. 6: 1,685
  • Sunday, Sept. 5: 3,068
  • Saturday, Sept. 4: 3,271

In total, more than 10,000 new cases were reported over the Labor Day weekend.
Oklahoma is reporting an average of 2,709 infections per day in the past week.

Oklahoma's Provisional Death Count, which reflects COVID-19 deaths based on death certificates, stands at 9,368. That's an increase of 76 from the previous report on Friday.

Just 44.5 percent of Oklahoma's population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, placing Oklahoma in the bottom 12 states for vaccine rollout.

Oklahoma State Fair Won't Enforce Masks, But Will Have Vaccination Booth

Updated September 7 at 9:41 a.m.

The Oklahoma State Fair is back this year, but mask wearing will not be enforced. Instead, it will be promoting vaccinations.

The state fair, which runs Sept. 16-26, will offer vaccinations through Passport Health in the Bennet Event Center during five days of the fair. Attendees can sign up online.

The state fair will be taking some new COVID-19 precautions like optional contactless entry, electric midway coupons and hand sanitizing stations. Scott Munz, a fair spokesman, says it would be too difficult to enforce a mask requirement.

“Right now, there's no mask mandate in order,” Munz said. “So for us to try to do that or try to invoke a mask mandate would be extremely difficult because people don't feel compelled to follow that request if it's not an official mandate of the city.”

Munz said the fair has about a $100 million economic impact in Oklahoma. In 2019, approximately 900,000 people attended.

Oklahoma School Districts Report Few Students Are Opting Out Of Mask Requirements

Updated September 7 at 9:26 a.m.

A temporary injunction blocking a law that bans mask mandates in schools goes into effect this week.

That should pave the way for school districts across the state to put mask mandates in their hallways and classrooms in place.

But how has it been working in schools that have already taken that approach?

Schools around Oklahoma City have implemented mask mandates in the last several weeks that include an option for parents to request their child doesn’t need to wear a mask.

StateImpact reached out to a half dozen school districts where masks were required, but opt-outs were given. Of those who responded, it appears opt-outs are rare.

  • Oklahoma City Public Schools 149 out of 31,000 students have opted out. Less than 1%.
  • Santa Fe South Charter Schools 114 students out of 3,691 have opted out. About 3%.
  • Harding Independence Charter Schools 12 out of 834 families have opted out. Less than 2%.

The move has improved masking compliance, said Steven Stefanick, superintendent of Harding Independence Charter Schools.
“The norm was not to wear it right because it wasn't a requirement,” Stefanick said. By making it a requirement that students can opt out of, “you're flipping the normalcy.”

Already, public school districts around the state are slowly starting to take a similar approach. Just before Labor Day, Edmond and Yukon Public Schools announced they would have a mask requirement with opt out provision for students this week. Tiny Briggs Public School in Cherokee County has said the same.

Though it’s politically fraught, that approach has gotten the endorsement of Gov. Kevin Stitt. Stitt has repeatedly praised schools for giving opt out provisions, though he’s said little about endorsing masks as a mitigation tool.

The practice has been leveraged as a loophole around the controversial Senate Bill 658. That newly enacted law bans mask mandates in schools without a governor-declared state of emergency, which hasn’t come this fall.

The law was partially struck down by an Oklahoma County District Court judge last week. And school districts have cited that pause - as well as an Oklahoma State Department of Education announcement that it wouldn’t enforce the law while it's being adjudicated - as reason to at least explore masking requirements that allow for exceptions.

It’s unclear, though, how many will actually put mask mandates in place. Last fall, more than a third of Oklahoma school districts had no masking requirements.

Stefanick said he’s relying on medical expert advice to make these types of determinations in his district.

The CDC says universal masking is critical to limiting the spread of the coronavirus in schools. And maintaining in person learning.

“We want our kids here, and we don't want them on a computer screen at home,” he said. “That’s our goal.”

3,080 New Coronavirus Infections In Oklahoma

Updated September 3 at 11:13 a.m.

3,080 new infections of the coronavirus were confirmed in Oklahoma on Friday, for a total of 560,850 since March 2020.

Oklahoma is reporting an average of 2,634 infections per day in the past week.

Oklahoma's Provisional Death Count, which reflects COVID-19 deaths based on death certificates, stands at 9,292. That's an increase of 39 from the previous day's report.

Just 44.2 percent of Oklahoma's population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, placing Oklahoma in the bottom 12 states for vaccine rollout.

Edmond Public Schools Requiring Masks

Updated September 2 at 3:42 a.m.

Edmond Public Schools is changing its policy on masking. KFOR reports the district superintendent Thursday announced changes in the masking language from masks encouraged to masks required as cases in the district continue to rise. The mask requirement goes into effect next Wednesday and will only last about a month. There will be an opt out option. The mask requirement will be reviewed on Oct. 13.

Health Officials Ask For Patience On Third Vaccine Shot

Updated September 2 at 3:25 a.m.

The state Department of Health is asking Oklahomans who are not immunocompromised to hold off on getting a third dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. Health officials say there is not enough information yet to recommend a third shot for people who have a healthy immune system. Deputy Health Commissioner Keith Reed tells KFOR the department is waiting for confirmation from the CDC to begin administering booster doses to all eligible Oklahomans.

Stillwater Mayor Declares State of Emergency

Updated September 1 at 6:25 p.m.

Stillwater Mayor Will Joyce has declared a State of Emergency for the city beginning Friday. The Oklahoma State Department of Health is deploying the Medical Reserve Corps and has issued a statewide call for healthcare volunteers.

This comes as Stillwater Medical Center has zero ICU, medical and surgical beds available. The corps can help provide nurses, paramedics, respiratory therapists and medical assistants.

Get A Vaccine Shot At OSU Football Games

Updated September 1 at 4:49 p.m.

Vaccine clinics will be offered before every Oklahoma State University home football game this fall. The first clinic will be before OSU's first football game of the season, this Saturday, in the northwest corner of Boone Pickens Stadium from noon to 4 p.m.

There will be no out of pocket cost but patrons must bring a health insurance card and cannot have alcohol in their system.

3,274 New Coronavirus Infections In Oklahoma

Updated September 2 at 11:15 a.m.

3,274 new infections of the coronavirus were confirmed in Oklahoma on Thursday, for a total of 557,770 since March 2020.

Oklahoma is reporting an average of 2,671 infections per day in the past week.

Oklahoma's Provisional Death Count, which reflects COVID-19 deaths based on death certificates, stands at 9,253. That's an increase of 54 from the previous day's report.

Just 44.0 percent of Oklahoma's population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, placing Oklahoma in the bottom 12 states for vaccine rollout.

An Oklahoma Teacher Shares Her Battle With The Coronavirus

Updated September 2 at 10:04 a.m.

StateImpact’s Robby Korth and KOSU’s Kateleigh Mills spoke with an Oklahoma City metro teacher named Anna about her experience catching the coronavirus and missing more than a week of classes.

Anna struggled with the disease, but credits her vaccination with keeping her from getting more sick.

Judge Temporarily Halts Mask Mandate Ban In Oklahoma Schools

Updated September 1 at 11:57 a.m.

An Oklahoma County district court judge issued an injunction temporarily halting Oklahoma’s ban on mask mandates in schools, Wednesday morning.

In a courtroom where guests were required to wear masks, Judge Natalie Mai ruled public school districts should be able to require students and teachers to do the same - at least temporarily.

The Oklahoma State Medical Association applauded the injunction. The doctors’ member organization is one of the lead plaintiffs in a suit filed against the state of Oklahoma over the ban on mask mandates in schools.

"We are pleased with the outcome of today’s hearing; however, this is just a first step in ensuring our schools maintain local control and can choose the best path for their students, faculty and staff,” OSMA President Mary Clarke said in a written statement. “It’s important to remember that while we’ve seen how easily COVID can spread in schools, the virus doesn’t stay within the school walls. For each infected student, there is a risk of additional infections amongst their friends, family and the community.”

Hours after the hearing, State Superintendent for Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister applauded the decision. She said education officials would not enforce the ban on mask mandates in schools, paving the way for mask mandates in schools statewide.

“Today is a victory for families, the safeguarding of schoolchildren and their opportunity to learn in-person," Hofmeister said in a statement. "The court’s striking of the mask mandate prohibition on SB 658 now enables schools to fulfill their duty to protect and ensure equal protection for all students, including those with disabilities and most vulnerable in our schools."

She continued, "We are pleased the judge granted a temporary injunction on SB 658 regarding mask mandates. The Oklahoma State Department of Education will not enforce the mask mandate prohibition due to this pending litigation. Further guidance will be provided once the litigation concludes.”

The ruling isn’t because of the proven health benefits of masking, though. It’s simply because Oklahoma’s law limiting mask mandates in the classroom creates a separate set of rules for private and public schools. The judge said that’s unconstitutional.

Public school districts can now issue mask mandates, but Mai stressed there must be exemptions available. Gov. Kevin Stitt applauded Mai for including the importance of opt out provisions in her comments while explaining the ruling.

“Today's ruling on SB658 in Oklahoma District Court is a victory for parental choice, personal responsibility and the rule of law,” he tweeted after the hearing. “I have been clear from the beginning that parents should have the right to make decisions about the health and education of their children.”

Stitt and Attorney General John O’Connor previously blasted the tiny Northeast Oklahoma school district of Hulbert for enacting a mask mandate. In an interview with a Tulsa television station, O’Connor even said he had plans to sue the district.

COVID-19 has ravaged Oklahoma schools. At least 45 schools closed or pivoted to distance learning in August because of the virus.

The practical implications of the ruling are unclear. Before Wednesday, at least 10 traditional and charter public school districts already had issued mask mandates with opt out provisions.

Those masking requirements seem to be validated, and it’s unknown how many school districts that have so far been reluctant to mandate masks will do so.

2,538 New Coronavirus Infections In Oklahoma

Updated September 1 at 11:07 a.m.

2,538 new infections of the coronavirus were confirmed in Oklahoma on Wednesday, for a total of 554,496 since March 2020.

Oklahoma is reporting an average of 2,796 infections per day in the past week.

Oklahoma's Provisional Death Count, which reflects COVID-19 deaths based on death certificates, stands at 9,199. That's an increase of 33 from the previous day's report.

Just 43.8 percent of Oklahoma's population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, placing Oklahoma in the bottom 12 states for vaccine rollout.

Oklahoma City Mask Mandate Fails

Updated September 1 at 4:14 a.m.

There will not be another mask mandate in Oklahoma City.

The Oklahoman reports the city council rejected a proposition to reinstate a mask mandate and an effort to incentivize vaccines. The council heard from numerous citizens on both sides of the issue.

Ultimately, the ordinance failed by a 5-to-4 vote causing uproar from several members of the crowd. After the vote, Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt gave two requests to residents: get vaccinated and wear masks in indoor public spaces.

Tracking COVID Through Wastewater Shows Elevated Levels

Updated September 1 at 3:33 a.m.

Researchers at the University of Oklahoma are looking at wastewater to track COVID-19.

In an update Tuesday, the researchers said they have detected a major increase of COVID-19 in sewage samples collected in the state’s metropolitan areas.

The samples collected over the last two weeks were 33 to 67 times higher than what was measured in May. The increase could signal a surge in COVID-19 cases across the state.

Over the last year, OU has been monitoring sewage to predict surges. According to the CDC, people infected with the virus shed it in their waste before developing symptoms.

1,719 New Coronavirus Infections In Oklahoma

Updated August 31 at 12:42 p.m.

1,719 new infections of the coronavirus were confirmed in Oklahoma on Tuesday, for a total of 551,958 since March 2020.

Oklahoma is reporting an average of 2,796 infections per day in the past week.

Oklahoma's Provisional Death Count, which reflects COVID-19 deaths based on death certificates, stands at 9,166. That's an increase of four from the previous day's report.

Just 43.7 percent of Oklahoma's population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, placing Oklahoma in the bottom 12 states for vaccine rollout.

U.S. Department of Education Investigating Oklahoma For Civil Rights Violations Related To Masking Protocols

Updated August 30 at 2:07 p.m.

The U.S. Department of Education announced Monday it’s investigating potential civil rights violations related to Oklahoma’s ban on mask mandates in schools.

The federal government is concerned Oklahoma’s masking ban could be discriminatory toward students with disabilities.

In a four-page letter to Oklahoma officials, federal investigators put the state on notice. They said the state’s ban on mask mandates is making school exceedingly dangerous. And that move could prevent students with disabilities from safely attending school in person.

The vast majority of Oklahoma schools are in person so far this year. But a StateImpact database shows that more than 30 have had to close their doors or pivot to distance learning because of the coronavirus.

Mask mandates in schools are banned in Senate Bill 658 without a state of emergency declared by the governor. The measure was signed into law by Gov. Kevin Stitt earlier this year, and he’s said repeatedly he won’t declare a state of emergency amid Oklahoma’s most recent coronavirus surge.

In a statement sent to StateImpact, Stitt spokeswoman Carly Atchison said, “Until every American citizen is safely out of Afghanistan, President Biden shouldn’t spend a single second harassing states like Oklahoma for protecting parents’ rights to make health decisions for their kids.”

Four other states — Iowa, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah — are under similar investigations.

“It’s simply unacceptable that state leaders are putting politics over the health and education of the students they took an oath to serve,” U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona said in a written statement. “The Department will fight to protect every student’s right to access in-person learning safely and the rights of local educators to put in place policies that allow all students to return to the classroom full-time in-person safely this fall.”

This isn’t the first time Cardona has expressed displeasure with Oklahoma’s masking policies.

Earlier this month, he sent a letter admonishing Oklahoma for its efforts to limit universal masking in schools.

Cardona was clear in his message to Oklahoma, blocking mask mandates in schools is harmful and puts children at risk. The action also puts school districts’ access to federal American Rescue Plan money at risk. Schools are required to enact safety plans to receive those federal COVID-19 relief funds, and taking away masking weakens their safe learning plans.

He also expressed support for school districts that have gone forward with universal masking requirements like Oklahoma City Public Schools and Santa Fe South Public Charter School, despite the state law banning them.

Pressure toward SB 658 is mounting. Over the weekend, State Superintendent Joy Hofmeister tweeted she supports an Oklahoma State Medical Association lawsuit attempting to overturn it.

"Regrettably, we are not surprised by this civil rights investigation spurred by passage of a state law prohibiting mask requirements in Oklahoma public schools," she said in a statement to StateImpact about the investigation. "That law, Senate Bill 658, is preventing schools from fulfilling their legal duty to protect and provide all students the opportunity to learn more safely in-person. We will fully cooperate with USDE."

1,617 New Coronavirus Infections In Oklahoma

Updated August 30 at 12:08 p.m.

1,617 new infections of the coronavirus were confirmed in Oklahoma on Monday, for a total of 550,239 since March 2020.

Oklahoma is reporting an average of 2,806 infections per day in the past week.

Oklahoma's Provisional Death Count, which reflects COVID-19 deaths based on death certificates, stands at 9,162. That's an increase of 88 from the previous report from Friday.

Just 43.6 percent of Oklahoma's population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, placing Oklahoma in the bottom 12 states for vaccine rollout.

Oklahoma Hospitals Announce Full ICUs As State Health Officials Keep Quiet On Bed Capacity

Updated August 29 at 12:51 p.m.

Oklahoma's state health officials are choosing to keep hospital capacity data under wraps as some of the state’s major health systems announce they have zero ICU beds open.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health held a COVID-19 briefing Thursday, where officials fielded several questions about current hospital and ICU capacity. They provided figures on current COVID-19 hospitalizations and ICU admissions, but didn’t disclose any data showing the number of open beds statewide. Statewide bed vacancies can shift minute by minute, dropping with every new admission and rising with each discharge.

Less than a day after that briefing, four of the state’s major hospital systems — which began coordinated communications and press events weeks ago — issued a release stating they would begin releasing their own ICU bed capacity figures “in an effort to provide transparency.”

Commissioner of Health Lance Frye demurred on questions about the number of open beds on Thursday.

“It’s a very difficult thing to really have a good grasp on,” he said.

During earlier waves of the pandemic, the department’s daily reports included those exact figures. On a given day, the reports would disclose the number of ICU and hospital beds in use, the number empty, and the percentage of beds that remain empty. For example, in one report, about 70 of the state’s roughly 1,000 staffed ICU beds were open — amounting to seven percent of the state’s ICU beds. The last report containing that information came May 4, during the post-vaccine lull in cases and hospitalizations.

Health officials, hospital administrators and others at the time often reminded the public those figures are fluid. A once common phrase, “a bed is not a bed,” highlighted that the presence of a physical bed isn’t all that’s required to fill it. A patient can’t be offered a bed without a nurse, doctor and support staff there to treat them. The advice was always to take the numbers with a grain of salt.

Frye said during the Thursday briefing that Oklahoma health officials used to track those numbers themselves, but they stopped once the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services began collecting the data.

“At some point during the pandemic, we switched from our mandatory reporting that we were doing in the state to, when HHS came out and said that they were going to require mandatory reporting,” he said. “We didn’t initially, but there was so much burden on the hospital system anyway that having them double report was really not — it just wasn’t a good thing for them. They said they had bigger, better things to take care of than trying to fill out two separate reports every day with the same information.”

During the earlier part of the pandemic, Oklahoma was under a public health emergency order. That came with state-level data reporting requirements, said Oklahoma Hospital Association President Patti Davis. Many of the figures required by the state were duplicated by the HHS requirements.

“It is essentially the same information,” she said.

She said it did provide some relief to the hospitals for the state to begin using HHS data.

When asked why the department opts out of including the HHS capacity data in daily reports, the agency offered the following statement attributed to Deputy Commissioner of Health Keith Reed:

“The HHS number fluctuates considerably from day to day based on the available staff for that particular day. It serves a valuable purpose in identifying the issue of the day, but does not always accurately reflect possible capacity in the state. In addition, the HHS data that is publicly available is the entire state, including Focus Facilities, Tribal and Rehab, so they are including facilities that the state has limited jurisdiction over and/or facilities that are not typically used to treat acute illness.”

More than 900 of the state’s 984 ICU beds were in use on Friday, according to the HHS dashboard.

The four health systems issued their joint release Friday afternoon. OU Health, SSM Health St. Anthony, INTEGRIS Health and Mercy all reported that they have no ICU beds. They also announced they would be offering these figures and other data independently every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

3,338 New Coronavirus Infections In Oklahoma

Updated August 27 at 11:25 a.m.

3,338 new infections of the coronavirus were confirmed in Oklahoma on Friday, for a total of 542,412 since March 2020.

Oklahoma is reporting an average of 2,577 infections per day in the past week.

Oklahoma's Provisional Death Count, which reflects COVID-19 deaths based on death certificates, stands at 9,074. That's an increase of 30 from the previous day's report.

Just 43.1 percent of Oklahoma's population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, placing Oklahoma in the bottom 12 states for vaccine rollout.

Officials: Oklahoma City 8th-Grader Dies From COVID-19

Updated August 26 at 4:51 p.m.

An Oklahoma City Public Schools middle school student has died of COVID-19, officials announced Thursday.

"OKCPS is saddened to learn of the passing of Clarence Johnson, III, who was enrolled to begin 8th grade at Mary Golda Ross Middle School after attending Roosevelt Middle School last year," the district said in a statement. "Crisis counseling is available to students and staff. We will keep his family and friends in our thoughts during this very difficult time."

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Joy Hofmeister referenced Johnson's death without naming him during a regular meeting of the state board of education Thursday morning.

"Now, I do need to talk about, you know, what should be an exciting time, going back to school -- but it's a time where it's actually been -- there are good things and some tragedies that have occurred," Hofmeister told the board. "Just, in fact, this morning I learned of an eighth grader that has passed away of COVID."

Hofmeister said she had also recently learned of the COVID death of a teacher in Grove.

In a Facebook post by an individual claiming to have taught Johnson, he was described as a 13-year-old student who "everyone knows and loves" and who died Aug. 19.

A GoFundMe campaign from Johnson's family had raised over $5,000 by noon Thursday.

"Tre planned on playing football this season," according to the fundraiser description. "Tre was a happy boy, he had a strong love of all kinds of music, food, video games, animals & social media, and of course his family & friends. Tre was taken from us way too soon, but he’s home now."

The office of Gov. Kevin Stitt, who has not held a COVID-19 press conference since March, did not return multiple requests for comment about Johnson's death.

According to the Oklahoma State Department of Health, as of Tuesday three children ages 12-14 were confirmed to have been killed by COVID-19 to date, though the state reports a confirmed death toll roughly 1,200 lower than the CDC's provisional death toll for COVID-19 in Oklahoma. The first reported pediatric COVID death in the state was a 13-year-old girl at Fort Sill in Comanche County.

4,152 New Coronavirus Infections In Oklahoma

Updated August 26 at 11:29 a.m.

4,152 new infections of the coronavirus were confirmed in Oklahoma on Thursday, for a total of 539,074 since March 2020.

Oklahoma is reporting an average of 2,507 infections per day in the past week.

Oklahoma's Provisional Death Count, which reflects COVID-19 deaths based on death certificates, stands at 9,044. That's an increase of 14 from the previous day's report.

Just 42.7 percent of Oklahoma's population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, placing Oklahoma in the bottom 12 states for vaccine rollout.

2,534 New Coronavirus Infections In Oklahoma

Updated August 25 at 11:39 a.m.

2,534 new infections of the coronavirus were confirmed in Oklahoma on Wednesday, for a total of 534,922 since March 2020.

Oklahoma is reporting an average of 2,271 infections per day in the past week.

Oklahoma's Provisional Death Count, which reflects COVID-19 deaths based on death certificates, stands at 9,030. That's an increase of 26 from the previous day's report.

Just 42.5 percent of Oklahoma's population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, placing Oklahoma in the bottom 12 states for vaccine rollout.

Some COVID Patients Fighting For Their Lives Rely On ECMO To Oxygenate Their Blood

Updated August 24 at 5:52 p.m.

Hospitals helping COVID-19 patients fight for their lives have been relying on an oxygen delivery system that hasn't really become a household name yet.

It’s called Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation — or ECMO.

Dr. Ryan Kennedy, the Associate Director at OU Health's Trauma Intensive Care Unit and the Co-Director for the Adult ECMO Service, explained how the treatment works during a Healthier Oklahoma Coalition briefing on Tuesday.

"We actually take the blood outside the patient's body and run it through a machine — not unlike a dialysis machine — that actually provides oxygen to the blood cells, so that they can then go back through another tube into the patient's usually neck or another large vein, and be delivered to the heart, to then be pumped to the rest of the body," Kennedy said.

In addition to bypassing the lungs and infusing the blood directly with oxygen, the technology also removes harmful carbon dioxide from the blood stream.

But Kennedy said this doesn’t help the patients' lungs directly. It simply buys them time to recover.

ECMO has been called "the last line of defense for many COVID patients" and "the most aggressive form of life support available."

1,794 New Coronavirus Infections In Oklahoma

Updated August 24 at 12:15 p.m.

1,794 new infections of the coronavirus were confirmed in Oklahoma on Tuesday, for a total of 532,388 since March 2020.

Oklahoma is reporting an average of 2,246 infections per day in the past week.

Oklahoma's Provisional Death Count, which reflects COVID-19 deaths based on death certificates, stands at 9,004. That's an increase of seven from the previous day's report.

Just 42.5 percent of Oklahoma's population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, placing Oklahoma in the bottom 12 states for vaccine rollout.

With Rising COVID Cases, Here's Where You Can Get Tested In Oklahoma

Updated August 24 at 11:39 a.m.

Some larger COVID-19 testing sites in Oklahoma have closed due to a lack of funding or demand, but with the Delta variant surging, the need for testing is a topic of discussion again.

Oklahoma health leaders have said it is a critical time to seek out testing for those with and without symptoms.

Despite High Community Spread, COVID Quarantine Rules Loosen This School Year In Oklahoma

Updated August 24 at 5:00 a.m.

One of the biggest barriers to learning last school year in Oklahoma was time missed in the classroom because of quarantine, after students were exposed to the coronavirus. Those quarantine rules are being implemented a little differently this year.

The Oklahoma State Department of Health is recommending students and school staff quarantine if they’re exposed to the coronavirus.

That means districts across the state are making quarantines optional. And some students are heading back to school after being exposed to the virus while they’re supposed to be monitoring for symptoms.

But, in a call to Oklahoma superintendents last week, State Epidemiologist Joli Stone said students and school staff exposed to the virus should stay home.

"We still believe that quarantine is one of our best routes to prevent spread," said Stone.

And statewide, many students and teachers are doing just that. Already, a StateImpact database of school closures has found that more than a dozen districts have pivoted to distance learning because of potential exposure numbers.

But the potential for spread because asymptomatic students might come to school with the virus is unclear.

In Oklahoma County, it’s a little bit different. The first mandatory quarantine rule went into effect there last week after a letter from Oklahoma City-County Health Department said mandatory quarantines are allowed. Edmond Public Schools immediately adopted rules requiring unvaccinated students stay home after exposure to the coronavirus.

Oklahoma is experiencing a high rate of community transmission in the latest wave of COVID cases. As of Aug. 23, Oklahoma is averaging about 2,100 new infections per day and about 1,500 people in Oklahoma are hospitalized with the virus.

There are more than 50 pediatric hospitalizations in the state.

Western Heights Public Schools Will Require Masks In Its Buildings, Buses

Updated August 24 at 4:30 a.m.

Western Heights Public Schools announced on Monday it is implementing a mask requirement in its buildings and on its buses, beginning Tuesday, Aug. 24.

The policy is similar to one implemented at Oklahoma City Public Schools and allows students to opt out. It also allows employees to go through human resources to get an exemption.

"One of the biggest priorities as an educator and a district leader is the health and safety of the students and staff," interim superintendent Montie Guthrie said in a written statement. "As a new variant of COVID-19 grows, especially among the youngest in our community, it is time for us to do as much as we possibly can to protect those who learn and work within our district."

Guthrie, a longtime employee of the Oklahoma's State Department of Education, was named interim superintendent of the district after its previous superintendent was suspended.

The beleaguered Southwest Oklahoma City school district is currently under state control. State officials accuse Western Heights leaders of financial reporting violations, creating safety problems and a culture of bullying that led to the loss of more than 100 employees and even more students over the course of two years.

At least 23 private schools, tribal schools and public school districts mandate masks in Oklahoma, despite Senate 658, which says school boards can't require masks. Private and tribal schools are not subject to that state law.

More than a dozen schools in Oklahoma have already closed or pivoted to distance learning this fall due to COVID-19 outbreaks.

KOSU Receives CPB Funding To Address COVID-19 Misinformation In Oklahoma

Updated August 24 at 4:00 a.m.

KOSU is among 14 public media stations across the country to receive Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) emergency grants to address COVID-19 misinformation in their communities. The grants — up to $20,000 each — are being awarded to public television and radio stations in areas with low vaccination and high infection rates, or in emerging hotspots for coronavirus infection.

"Public media stations, locally operated, work with their communities through partnerships of trust. General managers of stations serving America’s communities that are hard hit by the pandemic are committed to breaking through the cycle of misinformation regarding the COVID-19 vaccine and are providing information that is saving lives," said Patricia Harrison, CPB president and CEO. "CPB is committed to funding their work as part of our stewardship and mission."

Oklahoma is experiencing a high rate of community transmission in the latest wave of COVID cases. As of Aug. 23, Oklahoma is averaging about 2,100 new infections per day and about 1,500 people in Oklahoma are hospitalized with the virus.

As of Aug. 23, only 42.4% of Oklahomans have been fully vaccinated. For Oklahomans between the ages of 12 and 24, that fully vaccinated rate drops to 23.2%.

KOSU will target the low vaccination rate among 12- to 24-year-olds by collaborating with clubs, after-school programs, and other community organizations to solicit and answer questions from teens and their parents about vaccine misinformation. Outreach will include content translated into Spanish and Vietnamese.

"KOSU reporters continue to listen to the kinds of information the community needs. This project helps to continue to fill in the gaps and allows us to continue listening and learning," said Rachel Hubbard, KOSU Executive Director.

You can find more information on the grantees and descriptions of their projects here.

1,558 New Coronavirus Infections In Oklahoma

Updated August 23 at 11:13 a.m.

1,558 new infections of the coronavirus were confirmed in Oklahoma on Monday, for a total of 530,594 since March 2020.

Oklahoma is reporting an average of 2,113 infections per day in the past week.

Oklahoma's Provisional Death Count, which reflects COVID-19 deaths based on death certificates, stands at 8,997. That's an increase of 40 from the previous day's report.

Just 42.4 percent of Oklahoma's population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, placing Oklahoma in the bottom 12 states for vaccine rollout.

Tulsa Symphony Requiring Vaccinated Guests

Updated August 23 at 3:39 a.m.

The Tulsa Symphony plans to require proof of vaccinations to attend indoor concerts.

The Tulsa World reports the policy will apply to the orchestra’s classic and film concerts at the Tulsa PAC as well as its chamber music series.

The orchestra will also require audience members at the indoor concerts to wear masks.

The vaccine and mask requirements will not apply to the orchestra’s upcoming outdoor performance on September 3rd at Guthrie Green.

Booster Shots Expected Next Month In Oklahoma

Updated August 20 at 2:19 p.m.

Oklahoma health officials are expecting a smooth rollout of COVID-19 booster shots next month.

As the state awaits approval from federal officials, Oklahoma’s Deputy Health Commissioner says he doesn’t anticipate long waiting times like we saw for the first round of vaccines.

He says the state has sufficient supplies and many access points for Oklahomans to get the shots.

All U.S. adults who received a two-dose vaccine of Moderna or Pfizer would be eligible for an additional shot eight months after when they got their second one.

A separate booster recommendation for people who received the Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccine is expected soon.

2,851 New Coronavirus Infections In Oklahoma

Updated August 20 at 11:49 a.m.

2,851 new infections of the coronavirus were confirmed in Oklahoma on Friday, for a total of 524,376 since March 2020.

Oklahoma is reporting an average of 2,220 infections per day in the past week.

Oklahoma's Provisional Death Count, which reflects COVID-19 deaths based on death certificates, stands at 8,957. That's an increase of 19 from the previous day's report.

Just 41.9 percent of Oklahoma's population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, placing Oklahoma in the bottom 11 states for vaccine rollout.

Hofmeister On Mask Mandates: Oklahoma 'School Leaders Need To Do The Right Thing'

Updated August 20 at 9:07 a.m.

Following a memorandum from President Joe Biden on Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona sent a letter admonishing Oklahoma for its efforts to limit universal masking in schools.

Cardona was clear in his message to Oklahoma, blocking mask mandates in schools is harmful and puts children at risk.

“This State level action against science-based strategies for preventing the spread of COVID-19 appears to restrict the development of local health and safety policies and is at odds with the school district planning process embodied in the U.S. Department of Education’s… interim final requirements,” Cardona stated in the letter.

The letter was addressed to Gov. Kevin Stitt and state schools superintendent Joy Hofmeister.

StateImpact’s Robby Korth sat down with Hofmeister to discuss its contents and Oklahoma City Public Schools’ masking requirement rules.

OKC City Employees Must Wear Masks At Work

Updated August 20 at 3:40 a.m.

City employees of Oklahoma City must resume wearing masks at work regardless of vaccination status.

The Oklahoman reports city manager Craig Freeman has reinstated a mask requirement for city staff and contractors in city-owned buildings.

A memo sent Wednesday also states masks are recommended for visitors.

Because Freeman’s authority over staff does not extend to elected officials, city council members and the mayor are exempt. However, several city council members indicated that they would support a vote to reinstate a city-wide mask mandate at their next meeting on Aug. 31.

Hulbert Schools' Mask Mandate Draws Ire Of Oklahoma Governor, AG

Updated August 19 at 6:40 p.m.

On Thursday, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt and Attorney General John O'Connor blasted Hulbert Public Schools, a small school district in Northeast Oklahoma for implementing a mask mandate.

Hulbert's school board voted Wednesday to implement a mask mandate to control an explosion of COVID-19 cases and quarantines that had caused the middle and high school to go to distance learning.

Seven people had tested positive, and more than 140 middle and high schoolers were in quarantine in the 500-student district.

"Parents, health officials, education officials and state leaders all agree that in-person learning is the best model for students. The tools and resources exist to make this happen, and we cannot allow our district to be hindered in its mission to provide in-person learning," Hulbert Public Schools Superintendent Jolyn Choate said in a statement.

But Stitt and O'Connor say the vote to mandate masking violates state law. Senate Bill 658 prohibits school districts from implementing a mask mandate without a governor-declared state of emergency.

O'Connor says he'll challenge Hulbert’s actions in court.

It’s unclear why Hulbert's masking requirement violates state law. Masking rules instituted by Oklahoma City Public Schools and Santa Fe South Charter School recently had been praised by the governor for providing parental choice.

Hulbert officials said they would work with families or students who required a masking exception.

Another state official, State Rep. Monroe Nichols (D-Tulsa), ripped Stitt over spending time squabbling with schools rather than pleading with Oklahomans to get vaccinated.

"It’s time for the Governor to grow up and start leading this state through this pandemic or get out of the way," Monroe said in a statement.

Stitt has been criticized for his silence as the state has experienced another wave of COVID infections. He hasn't addressed the public regarding the coronavirus since March.

Oklahoma is in the bottom 11 states in vaccine rollout, as only 41.8 percent of the state residents are fully vaccinated against the virus.

Several Live Music Venues In Oklahoma Will Require Vaccination Or Negative COVID Test

Updated August 19 at 4:25 p.m.

Several live music venues in Oklahoma are requiring proof of vaccination or negative COVID tests in order to attend concerts.

Beginning September 8th, all guests at Tower Theatre and Ponyboy in Oklahoma City will be required to show proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test within 72 hours of the event.

"It is our hope that our state and city officials, as well as other organizations responsible for large gatherings of people, will join us in encouraging safe practices for our community with the goal of a post-COVID reality," said Chad Whitehead, Operating Partner of Tower Theatre, in a statement. "We are increasing our safety measures at this time in an effort to keep live music events as safe and sustainable as possible."

In addition, Tower Theatre will require all children under the age of 12 to wear a mask at all times. Masking for those over the age of 12 is encouraged, but not required. The venue will grant exemptions to those with qualifying health conditions on a case-by-case basis. Those unable to meet the requirements are eligible for a full refund.

In Tulsa, venues like Mercury Lounge, The Whittier Bar and Barkingham Palace are implementing similar policies beginning this week.

Mercury Lounge co-owner Bobby Dean Orcutt said his business doesn't have a choice.

"We deal in touring shows and right now live events are the first thing to go," Orcutt said. "It's happening again right now. We're seeing more and more shows cancel and money removed from the local economy."

Orcutt believes these requirements are quickly becoming the industry standard for live music. Mercury Lounge will offer some rapid tests at the door for concert attendees unaware of the new rules. The venue will also only require vaccination proof and negative tests for concerts. Any other time the bar is open, those requirements will be lifted.

Nationally, the two biggest live music companies — Live Nation and AEG Live — and festivals like Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo are all requiring vaccination proof or negative tests to attend their events.

Touring musicians like Jason Isbell, Foo Fighters, Japanese Breakfast and Bleachers have announced similar safety requirements to attend their concerts.

New Orleans Jazz Fest recently cancelled their 2021 event and touring musicians like Stevie Nicks, Michael Bublé, Limp Bizkit, Lynyrd Skynyrd and Counting Crows have either cancelled shows or entire tours due to a rise in COVID cases.

And this week, Garth Brooks cancelled stadium tour dates in five cities due to rising COVID cases. In a statement, Brooks said, "I realize we are still in the fight and I must do my part."

Vaccines are available through many doctors and pharmacies, or you can schedule an appointment at vaccines.gov.

Editor's note: Chad Whitehead is also a host for a show on The Spy on KOSU and Tower Theatre is a sponsor of KOSU.

2,502 New Coronavirus Infections In Oklahoma

Updated August 19 at 1:52 p.m.

2,502 new infections of the coronavirus were confirmed in Oklahoma on Thursday, for a total of 521,525 since March 2020.

Oklahoma is reporting an average of 2,215 infections per day in the past week.

Oklahoma's Provisional Death Count, which reflects COVID-19 deaths based on death certificates, stands at 8,938. That's an increase of 32 from the previous day's report.

Just 41.8 percent of Oklahoma's population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, placing Oklahoma in the bottom 11 states for vaccine rollout.

As A New School Year Starts, StateImpact Is Tracking COVID-19's Impact

Updated August 19 at 9:37 a.m.

Last fall, COVID-19 was present in schoolhouses in every corner of the state.

This fall appears to be no different. Only days into the new school year, districts are reporting cases and pivoting to distance learning as the pandemic rages.

StateImpact is again tracking COVID-19’s spread. But this time, the database will measure school closures rather than cases.

The virus’ impact still isn’t fully understood. But as school starts up, the highly contagious Delta variant is raging across Oklahoma, again leaving hospitals burdened.

Statewide, coronavirus hospitalizations are nearing the records set during the post-Christmas surge. As of this week, about 1,200 Oklahomans are in the hospital every day. In some areas, like the Tulsa metro, daily hospitalizations have surpassed that record.

In the pandemic’s early waves, hospitalizations were rare among young people and children. That appears to be shifting with the Delta variant. The State Department of Health began tracking pediatric hospitalizations, and for the past few weeks, it has reported more than 40 per day.

Oklahoma medical experts began raising concerns about COVID-19 in children earlier this summer. Dr. Donna Tyungu, a pediatric infectious disease specialist with OU Health, said during a Healthier Oklahoma Coalition briefing in July that their system is seeing healthy young people coming in needing oxygen.

The politics of the situation also leave more question marks this school year.

In July, controversial Senate Bill 658 went into effect. The new law prohibits public school districts from implementing a mask mandate without a governor-declared state of emergency.

A handful of public schools — most prominently Oklahoma City Public Schools — have defied the law through a loophole, using superintendents to implement mask mandates with opt-out policies instead of school board votes, which are what’s specifically laid out in the law.

But in the vast majority of classrooms, the state law holds and masks are optional, limiting the best layer of mitigation against the coronavirus for unvaccinated individuals like all children under the age of 12.

Biden Administration Pushes Back On Oklahoma, Other States For Implementing Bans On School Mask Mandates

Updated August 19 at 4:00 a.m.

Following a memorandum from President Joe Biden on Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona sent a letter admonishing Oklahoma for its efforts to limit universal masking in schools.

Cardona was clear in his message to Oklahoma, blocking mask mandates in schools is harmful and puts children at risk.

"This State level action against science-based strategies for preventing the spread of COVID-19 appears to restrict the development of local health and safety policies and is at odds with the school district planning process embodied in the U.S. Department of Education's... interim final requirements," Cardona stated in the letter.

The action also puts school districts’ access to federal American Rescue Plan money at risk. Schools are required to enact safety plans to receive those federal COVID-19 relief funds, and taking away masking weakens their safe learning plans.

In a blog post also posted on Wednesday, Cardona also pointed to the department's authority to investigate policies or actions that infringe on the civil rights of students being able to access public education equally.

Finally, he expressed support for school districts that have gone forward with universal masking requirements like Oklahoma City Public Schools and Santa Fe South Public Charter School, despite the state law banning them.

"The Department stands with these dedicated educators who are working to safely reopen schools and maintain safe in-person instruction," Cardona said.

Cardona reportedly sent similar letters to Arizona, Iowa, South Carolina, Tennessee and Utah this week, and to Florida and Texas last week.

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