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

Robby Korth
StateImpact Oklahoma
A map showing where schools have closed or pivoted to distance learning because of COVID-19.

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. You can see the sortable, searchable database below:

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.

StateImpact Oklahoma is a partnership of Oklahoma’s public radio stations which relies on contributions from readers and listeners to fulfill its mission of public service to Oklahoma and beyond. Donate online.

Robby Korth grew up in Ardmore, Oklahoma and Fayetteville, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Nebraska with a journalism degree.
Catherine Sweeney grew up in Muskogee, Oklahoma, and attended Oklahoma State University. She has covered local, state and federal government for outlets in Oklahoma, Colorado and Washington, D.C.
Logan Layden is a reporter and managing editor for StateImpact Oklahoma. Logan spent six years as a reporter with StateImpact from 2011 to 2017.
StateImpact Oklahoma reports on education, health, environment, and the intersection of government and everyday Oklahomans. It's a reporting project and collaboration of KGOU, KOSU, KWGS and KCCU, with broadcasts heard on NPR Member stations.
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