Local & Regional

Wednesday's top stories:

• Medical and public health experts including Oklahoma's former state epidemiologist believe current record-setting COVID-19 numbers are actually undercounts of the true situation.

• The Tulsa Health Department could begin vaccinations for those 65 and older as soon as Monday.

Oklahoma Legislative Black Caucus

The state’s legislative Black caucus said on Tuesday they strongly oppose objections to the Electoral College vote planned by Republicans from Oklahoma and other states.

Sen. James Lankford and Rep. Markwayne Mullin have said they will do so. Rep. Kevin Hern is expected to as well. All base their objections on unproven claims of widespread fraud.

State Rep. Regina Goodwin (D-Tulsa) is the Oklahoma Black Caucus Chair. She said objectors have had two months to prove any claims of fraud.

CVS Health

Tulsa County seniors may start getting COVID vaccines next week.

They're second in line in the state's phase two priority group behind first responders, who started getting vaccinations this week.

Tulsa Health Department Executive Director Dr. Bruce Dart said Tuesday adults 65 or older should be able to start making appointments Thursday when the state health department rolls out its scheduling app and portal.

Pikist

Oklahoma’s former state epidemiologist believes current COVID case numbers, which hover near record highs, are artificially low.

At an update by the Healthier Oklahoma coalition on Tuesday, OU College of Public Health professor and former state epidemiologist Dr. Aaron Wendelboe said a lag in reporting and drop in testing are making things look better than they actually are when it comes to the spread of the coronavirus.

Oklahoma House GOP

Oklahoma lawmakers met Tuesday for a constitutionally required organizational day ahead of the session’s official start Feb. 1.

Ahead of a joint meeting, the House and Senate met separately to elect leaders. Atoka Republican Charles McCall was easily elected to another term as Speaker of the House. Rep. Kyle Hilbert (R-Bristow) nominated McCall, noting he led the chamber through up and down budget years, legislative turnover, and the pandemic.

Tulsa Public Schools

A Tulsa Public Schools administrator on Monday said there's tentative reason to hope teachers and other school staff could begin receiving their first doses of COVID-19 vaccine by the end of January.

Chief Operations Officer Jorge Robles said at a TPS Board of Education meeting that a lot is still up in the air, but that was floated as a possibility in conversations with Tulsa Health Department officials.

Office of Sen. Jim Inhofe

Oklahoma's senior U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe said in a Tuesday statement that he will not join fellow Republican Okla. Sen. James Lankford and other Republicans in objecting to the certification of Democratic President-elect Joe Biden's victory in a joint session of Congress on Wednesday.

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases

The Oklahoma State Department of Health reported on Tuesday 1,497 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the state's total to 308,268.

Tulsa County had 291 of those cases. Its total now stands at 50,910, second to Oklahoma County's 60,765.

The state's seven-day average of new cases, which shows the trend in infections, rose from 3,455 to 3,498. The record is 3,562, set on Sunday. The average had dipped to around 2,600 as reporting lagged around the Christmas and New Year's holidays. Oct. 5 was the last time the seven-day average was below 1,000.

Facebook / Congressman Markwayne Mullin

"There's a lot of misinformation that's floating out there," Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) said near the beginning of a Monday night telephone town hall, "and we want to discuss some of that." 

Tuesday's top stories:

• The Oklahoma State Department of Health says it will be launching an app this week to help with COVID-19 vaccination appointments, acknowledging a slower-than-anticipated rollout.

• The state will follow FDA guidance not to give half-doses of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

Moderna

The head of Operation Warp Speed has suggested giving people half doses of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in order to get more people some level of protection faster.

Stilwell-based infectious disease specialist Dr. Gitanjali Pai said during a vaccine update on Monday the state will not act on its own to do that.

CVS Health

The Oklahoma State Department of Health plans to launch an app on Thursday to help people find when and where they can get a COVID-19 vaccine.

That comes on the heels of an announcement the agency will set up points of dispensing sites, or PODS, across the state to help administer shots to people in phase two of the vaccination plan.

As of Saturday, the state reported receiving 175,000 doses of vaccine and administering fewer than 50,500, mostly to health care workers in phase one.

John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation

TULSA, Okla. (AP) — Oklahoma began a centennial remembrance Friday of a once-thriving African American neighborhood in Tulsa decimated by deadly white violence that has received growing recognition during America’s reckoning over police brutality and racial violence.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

The Oklahoma State Department of Health reported on Monday 2,699 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the total to 306,771.

Tulsa County had 569 of Monday's cases. Its total now stands at 50,619, second to Oklahoma County's 60,512.

The state added 93,191 cases of COVID-19 to its total in December, the most of any month so far and a 24% increase from the previous high in November.  

Facebook / Oklahoma Employment Security Commission

President Trump signed a COVID-19 relief bill providing for certain unemployment benefits two Sundays ago, but the state of Oklahoma says it still hasn't received the federal funding or guidance necessary to pay out many claims.

"We will have to receive multiple guidance documents from [the U.S. Department of Labor] to administer these programs," said Oklahoma Employment Security Commission Director Shelley Zumwalt in a video posted to social media Saturday evening. 

Pixabay

Tulsa Public Schools is moving forward with its new early college high school program as enrollment opens Tuesday.

The program is for eighth graders moving on to Memorial or McLain high school next year. When they graduate high school, they’ll have earned an associate’s degree as well as their diploma.

TPS Superintendent Dr. Deborah Gist said the initial focus is on kids who would be first-generation college students.

The first session of the 58th Oklahoma legislature begins in four weeks, and lawmakers have their work cut out for them.

House Speaker Charles McCall (R-Atoka) said one of the top priorities is finding a way to pay for Medicaid expansion after voters approved it through State Question 802 last June.

"That is now in our state’s constitution, although by a very razor-thin margin, nevertheless, the legislature has to be prepared to come back this session and address the issue of Medicaid expansion in the state of Oklahoma," McCall said.

The Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority expects to have a statewide seed-to-sale tracking system rolled out early this year.

OMMA announced a contract with national company Metrc in September. Interim Director Dr. Kelly Williams told lawmakers in a December hearing having the system in place will help protect patients and dispensaries from marijuana that doesn’t meet quality or safety standards.

Monday's top stories:

• Oklahoma has broken records for weekly COVID-19 deaths and seven-day rolling average for confirmed infections.

• Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford is one of at least a dozen Republican senators to announce they will object to the certification of President-elect Joe Biden's victory over defeated President Donald Trump.

University of Tulsa Football

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — A bowl victory that increased Mississippi State’s win total this season to four and No. 22 Tulsa’s failed attempt to add another unlikely comeback to its impressive collection this season took a back seat to the melee that broke out Thursday shortly after the Armed Forces Bowl ended.

Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — The unprecedented Republican effort to overturn the presidential election has been condemned by an outpouring of current and former GOP officials warning the effort to sow doubt in Joe Biden’s win and keep President Donald Trump in office is undermining Americans’ faith in democracy.

Youtube / Gov. Kevin Stitt

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Bars and restaurants across Oklahoma will be able to stay open past Gov. Kevin Stitt’s ordered 11 p.m. curfew while a lawsuit brought by a group of bar owners is litigated.

U.S. Department of Defense

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Oklahoma has set a new record for COVID-19 deaths in a week, as state health officials on Sunday reported more than 8,000 new cases of the disease caused by the novel coronavirus over two days.

Oklahoma had 170 deaths from COVID-19 over the last seven days, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The previous one-week record of 168 deaths was set in early December.

Tulsa Health Department

In a Wednesday afternoon press release, the state of Oklahoma boasted of being nationally ranked in the top ten for the percent of the state population which had received an initial dose of COVID-19 vaccine. “Oklahoma has a plan in place for vaccine distribution, and we are seeing the effective results of this, as we are among the Top 10 states in the nation getting our people vaccinated,” Gov. Kevin Stitt said in the release.

Food and Drug Administration

The Oklahoma State Department of Health reported on Wednesday 3,249 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the state's total to 287,030.

Tulsa County had 411 of Wednesday's cases. Its total now stands at 47,575, second to Oklahoma County's 57,401.

The state's seven-day average of new cases, which shows the trend in infections, decreased slightly, from 2,594 to 2,536. The previous record of 3,535 was set on Christmas Day.

The holidays are suspected to be responsible for a drop-off in testing and artificially low case numbers in the state.

Governor Kevin Stitt Facebook page

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The Oklahoma State Department of Health has announced plans for coronavirus vaccine distribution locations in the state as it moves into phase 2 of vaccinations that will begin with first responders and healthcare workers who are not in a hospital setting.

City of Tulsa

The City of Tulsa’s housing policy director is leaving that job to make an interim role permanent.

Becky Gligo has been picked as the executive director of Housing Solutions, the organization leading work to end homelessness by members of the A Way Home for Tulsa Coalition. She’s led Housing Solutions on an interim basis the past 10 months while also working at the city.

Increasing access to high-speed internet in rural Oklahoma may be an even tougher task than it sounds because of federal uncertainty.

Oklahoma’s Rural Broadband Expansion Council, which started meeting in August, is still debating how "broadband" should be defined. Council Chair Rep. Logan Phillips (R-Mounds) said during their December meeting it seems like it should be easy.

"But it’s incredibly difficult to define because … we define it wrong, it will be used against us. It’ll stop us in our tracks," Phillips said.

Facebook / Oklahoma Department of Human Services

Oklahoma's system of public assistance programs can be "complicated and unpredictable" for low-income residents who depend on it, according to a new report.

Wednesday's top stories:

• Gov. Kevin Stitt and the Oklahoma State Department of Health are opting to no longer receive and publicly release weekly reports from the White House coronavirus task force.

• Morning Edition and All Things Considered will air without local news on Thursday, New Year's Eve, and Friday, New Year's Day. Regular programming returns Monday, Jan. 4. Happy new year from the KWGS news team.

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