October 26, 2020
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – “For the Children” Weekly Column
Contact: Joe Dorman, CEO – Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy
Telephone: (405) 833-1117
For the Children: A Weekly Column by Joe Dorman, CEO – OICA
Oklahoma Schools Must Have COVID Plan to Protect Students, Teachers, and Their Families
Oklahoma is not in a good place when it comes to how badly we are being hit by COVID-19. Oklahoma topped previous COVID-19 records Saturday (Oct. 24), marking a one-day increase of more than 1,800 new virus cases, the state Health Department reported.
Friday, Gov. Kevin Stitt extended the state of emergency — an order that was first issued in March — for 30 days. Beyond that, we learned the number of people being treated in hospitals for COVID-19 rose to 956 Thursday, a new pandemic high.
According to Oklahoma Watch, hospitalizations are up 54 percent since Oct. 1, straining staff and forcing hospitals to transfer some non-emergency patients. The total number of Oklahomans infected with coronavirus hit 116,736 on Sunday and the number of active cases rose to a new high at 15,946. To date, more than 1,250 Oklahomans have died from COVID-19, according to Health Department reports.
More young Oklahomans are testing positive for COVID-19 as in-person school resumes across most of the state. The news service StateImpact. tracks confirmed cases of COVID-19 in schools. So far, more than 630 public announcements of COVID diagnoses have been discovered from more than 300 public school districts, charter, and private schools. That is more than half the school districts in the state. Now even areas of rural Oklahoma are becoming hot spots.
Adding to this, on Oct. 16, Oklahoma City Public Schools announced eight staff members and one student had self-reported positive COVID-19 cases. Another 18 staff and five students were quarantining because of possible exposure. Tulsa Public Schools’ dashboard showed the district had 11 staff members in isolation after testing positive, with 26 students and 41 staff members in quarantine after potential exposure.
How are we doing compared to other states? Take Oregon, a state with a similar population size, but with stricter masking policies. They also hit a record number of cases on the same day that we reached ours last week. The difference is that while our record reached 1,829 newly reported cases, Oregon’s record was only 550 new cases and their death toll is at 649 people, roughly half our count.
According to recent education reports, fewer than 50 percent of the schools in Oklahoma have a mask mandate. In July, the Oklahoma State Board of Education voted down a thorough school reopening proposal by one vote after hours of contentious debate. That proposal would have mandated masks in many situations, while allowing for common sense local options to deal with specific health concerns and realistic enforcement.
Another alarming fact is that Annie E. Casey Foundation reports 2.8 million U.S. children are in the care of grandparents; Sunbeam Family Services says Oklahoma ranks ninth among states in the nation for the number of grandparents raising their grandchildren. Grandparents are in the age group most at risk of COVID-19. All this is especially troubling when you factor in the expected spikes following trick-or-treating this weekend.
The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy calls upon the state Board of Education to reconsider and adopt a COVID plan that adequately protects our children and educators in classrooms, as well as their family members.
If policymakers genuinely want to save lives and keep Oklahomans working during this pandemic, a strict mask policy in schools must be adopted by the Oklahoma State Board of Education. Each local school district should look to protecting the lives of those who are providing care to their young loved ones.
The attached graphic will show you how each member of the Oklahoma State Board of Education voted on an in-school mask mandate. Please join us in this effort to protect our children and those with whom they come in contact. To make your voice heard, you can reach the members of the Oklahoma State Board of education through this site: https://sde.ok.gov/state-board-education.