Don’t worry about Zika virus…yet.

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The Zika virus, a mosquito born illness, has grabbed headlines as it causes panic among expectant mothers. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention began emergency actions in late January in response to outbreaks of Zika in Central and South America. The Zika virus is known for causing birth defects in the babies of pregnant women. Only a few weeks after the initial actions, the CDC would elevate their emergency teams to their highest level of response. With no cure or vaccine, the Zika virus has many questioning if they are safe and how to protect themselves.

Dr. Kristy Bradley serves as the Oklahoma Department of Health’s State Epidemiologist. Beyond local outbreak prevention efforts, Bradley also works in national groups to develop a surveillance plan for the US in response to the Zika virus. She shares how it has already made its way to the States, “The CDC is reporting a total of 84 cases of the Zika virus disease in the United States but all 84 are infections that have been acquired overseas.”

Explore an interactive map of the Zika virus cases in the US here.

The CDC breaks the spread of the Zika virus into two broad categories: travel-acquired and locally transmitted. All of the Zika virus cases in the US have been considered travel-acquired, which occurs when the patient was infected while traveling outside the US in an area with the Zika-carrying mosquitos and returns to the US. Local transmission is where the patient was infected by a domestic mosquito that carrying the virus. While Zika can also be transmitted by blood transfusion and even sexual contact, the virus would still have originated either through travel or local transmission.

Aedes aegypti

Aedes Aegypti

As of right now, there are no known cases of the Zika virus in Oklahoma. Dr. Bradley explains that our mosquitos are just different. “In regards to the Zika virus, the Aedes Aegypti, or the common name is the Yellow Fever mosquito, is the main type of mosquito that’s effective in spreading this virus…We only have some parts of the United States that have populations of yellow fever mosquitos and its not in Oklahoma.”

 

While Bradley acknowledges the outbreak sounds alarming, Zika only affects 1 in 5 people. The infection yields mild symptoms of a fever, rash, joint pains, and red eyes. The virus usually is gone within a week’s time. The main concern of Zika revolves entirely around pregnant women as it can cause birth defects in the baby. The common birth defect is microcephaly, where the baby’s head grows much smaller than average and can lead to several developmental disabilities. If you suspect you might have symptoms of the Zika, the CDC recommends seeking your healthcare provider, who can test for the virus.

Zika Virus Prevention Tips

  • Avoid travel to Zika outbreak areas.
  • If you must travel to such areas, wear long-sleeve clothing, use insect repellant, and avoid areas and times where mosquitos are common.
  • Avoid sexual contact or wear protection with Zika-infected individuals.

Dr. Bradley says there is no need for concern but that may not always be the case. While the Zika virus’s main carrier is the Yellow Fever mosquito, there is always the possibility that the virus might spread to a native species of mosquito. With so few cases in the US, chances of a domestic mosquito biting and becoming a carrier of Zika are slim. However, Bradley warns of one upcoming event that might change that, Spring Break.

 

 

The best way to stay safe from the Zika virus is to remain informed. Following information by the CDC will keep you updated and aware of prevention methods. While the potential for a US outbreak does exist, health officials say there is no immediate need to panic. More information on Zika can be found on the CDC website and also by visiting the Oklahoma Department of Health’s Zika page.

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Oil tax breaks cripple Oklahoma schools

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In 2014, the State of Oklahoma wagered the good times would last. Oklahoma placed its chip on tax breaks. A gamble made in desperation, the state stood so much to lose. The dice rolled snake eyes. Every state department is malnourished by budget cuts. Facing bleaker economics in 2016, Oklahoma demands even more cuts. One of the most devastated departments is Education. The children of Oklahoma are the ones to pay the price for a bet gone badly.

The cost of oil comfortably sat at over $100 a barrel in the summer of 2014. Oklahoma passed a bill that legislature hoped would encourage more drilling. Starting in June 2015, new wells would only be taxed 2% for their first 3 years, afterwards climbing to 7%. Oil plays a key part of Oklahoma’s Gross Production revenue, which is the state’s 3rd largest source of revenue. By the end of 2014, however, the price of oil plummeted to half its value. Starting the New Year, oil is under $30 a barrel. This compounded the existing economic woes caused by low top tax rates. In response, the State of Oklahoma forced massive budget cuts across almost every department. Already ranked one of the worst states for education, the Oklahoma Department of Education was hit even harder by another round of budget cuts this January. The excessive tax breaks to both individuals and companies have created the opposite effect of their purpose.

The lower tax rate for drilling is not without its backers. Supporters are quick to point to oil price’s ebb and flow. The bill makes sense when oil prices are high and when residents are pouring into the economy. Advocates don’t want to make knee-jerk reactions in the event prices should rise again. The problem is that the entire bill relies on the accuracy of estimates, which have proven over and over to not be reliable.

The combination of income tax cuts and tax breaks to the oil industry has crippled Oklahoma’s departments. This includes almost $47 million cuts from the Department of Education. A 3% reduction is mandated this year across the board. School lunch matching loses 30%. AP teacher training, AP test fee assistance, and staff development funds are halved. The STEM program (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) is completely defunded. It’s predicted some schools will be forced to close.

Oklahoma is caught in a downward spiral with its tax breaks and budget cuts. Education leads to prosperity. By defunding education efforts, Oklahoma will fail in creating leaders and industry pioneers. It’s self-damning to cut STEM programs that would produce future engineers and scientists. Oklahoma’s taxes must be revised for any recovery to occur.

Renewable energy is gaining more attention as oil’s appeal wanes. Despite push back from oil lobbyists, Oklahoma should focus its tax incentives for the emerging wind and solar industry. While oil will always remain in constant flux, wind and solar energy would provide a stable market. The State is poised to be a national leader in renewable energy if it would make the commitment. Along with revisions to income tax rates, the Gross Production revenue from a diverse energy portfolio would put Oklahoma’s education back on track, ensuring a brighter future.

It was Benjamin Franklin who said, “An investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”

Occupy the Corners OKC

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America is at a boiling point when it comes to issues of police and community violence. Law enforcement nation-wide are beginning to make changes towards increased transparency and stronger community relations. While much discussion has been centered around police reform, communities are recognizing the need to heal from within.

PREVENTING BALTIMORE IN OKLAHOMA CITY

In Oklahoma City, violent crimes plague the communities and create tension for the police. With crime rates well above the national average, residents of OKC are recognizing the need for change.

Violence in OKC

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Milton Combs, founder of the PEOPLE Foundation, has worked with the OKC chapter of the NAACP and the police’s Citizen Advisory Board towards ending violence in the city. He says that Oklahoma City communities will need to be proactive in changing their neighborhoods.

CEO of the PEOPLE Foundation

Milton Combs, CEO of the PEOPLE Foundation

“By doing forums. By having neighborhood meetings…By having the kinds of events where citizens can vent and they can also learn about what’s going on in their town to help police-community relations and then asking them to step up to the plate.”

This year, Combs and other community leaders have been involved in several such events. Back in March, the Oklahoma City NAACP and the non-profit, Ending Violence Everywhere, partnered with Oklahoma City police in their first ever Police and Community Trust Forum. The dialogue led to further discussions on how the community can work to decreasing crime.

Oklahoma City’s Rev. Jesse Jackson Jr. is starting a campaign modeled after Al Sharpton and the National Action Network’s “Occupy the Corners” project.

In the shadow of the state capitol, the neighborhood around NE 23rd and MLK suffers greatly from the violence Rev. Jackson and others rally against.

POLICE RESPOND TO FATAL SHOOTING IN NE OKLAHOMA CITY

MAN DEAD AFTER NORTHEAST OKC SHOOTING

On June 13th, nearly two dozen community leaders and residents met on the high-traffic, high-crime corner to advocate an end to gun violence.

Participants included pastors, non-profit organization leaders, NAACP members, and concerned residents. Speakers shared on the issues of violence in the community, how citizens can hold police accountable, and the need for deeper involvement. Rev. Jackson said this is all about doing the right thing.

“Our elderly people in our community deserve to feel safe. Our young people deserve to feel safe. We deserve to reclaim our neighborhoods as what they were, as what we remember.”

Looking forward, Rev. Jackson hopes support for “Occupy the Corners OKC” will grow. His ambition is to have multiple simultaneous rallies throughout Oklahoma City’s problem neighborhoods and begin a door-to-door outreach with their message.

“We’re here spreading love. We’re here saying that our lives matter. That your life has worth and that we need one another. We are the keepers of our brothers and sisters.”

Smartphone Storytelling: Be Church and Bring Church

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My 2nd entry in my series, “Smartphone Storytelling,” was made with the desire to tell a different kind of story from my previous one. I wanted to work on a NATS package and try to pull it off with only a phone and laptop.

The story of, “Be Church and Bring Church,” arose out of my own personal experiences with church planting and missions and my father’s work as a church planter catalyst for the North American Mission Board. I set out to shed light on the challenges faced by church planters and the lack of support by believers. The call to the Great Commission is shared by every Christian but it is the Church’s apathy that has led to many frustrations and failures.

The hardest part of any NATS package is making sure your interviews go correctly. Its like a house of cards. Without solid interviews, the whole thing collapses. Interviewing with a smartphone is a even more complicated than what most backpack journalists deal with. The constant camera shake and limitations of the phone are coupled with the already consuming effort of conducting an interview.

The first interview with John Draper had a lot of issues. Wanting a more relaxed backdrop, we went to a cafe. However, the cafe ground its own beans and caused a lot of noise. Smartphones have omnidirectional microphones which will pick up any background noise. While I want to limit myself to only a phone and computer, I did want to test out a magnetic mini tripod I purchased for $40. It holds the weight of my Galaxy S5 nicely and can stick to any magnetized metal surface. I toyed with it only in this interview and may occassionally utilize it in the future.

The interview with Elie had to be recorded with my computer as I was using my phone to interview the church planter. While using it, I realized the possibility of doing a two camera shoot when combining the two. Set the laptop up for a wide shot and go closer with the smartphone. Synchronize to one audio source. I don’t know. Something to play around with someday.

The smartphone proved to be an excellent candid camera when recording in the church service and in public. A larger set of equipment would have not allowed me to, as freely, move where I wanted to. Almost everyone ignored me and I was able to snag some decent shots. However, capturing the worship leaders on stage led to the struggle with the limited zoom ability on smartphones.

Overall, I feel that I was able to tell a compelling NATS package. Checking off audio storytelling on my list of to-do’s, I hope to do a very visually striking piece in the near future. Stay tuned!

Smartphone Storytelling: Preventing Baltimore in Oklahoma City

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This is the beginning of an ongoing series I call, “Smartphone Storytelling,” an exploration of how smartphones can play new roles in journalism. Throughout the series, I will limit myself strictly to a smartphone (Galaxy S5) and a laptop (Macbook Pro). I will not use tripods, external microphones, car mounts, or any accessories beyond the built-in features of these two devices (excluding charging and transfer cables). This allows me to work solely with the tools that even the average highshool student would have access to. My hopes is to discover new approaches towards how journalists can use these devices and encourage everyone that, should they have these two basic tools, they have all the power to make their voice heard around the world.

PREVENTING BALTIMORE IN OKLAHOMA CITY

The story I worked on is titled, “Preventing Baltimore in Oklahoma City.” Previously living in Baltimore, I currently reside in Oklahoma City. I was drawn to the coverage of April’s protests that shook Baltimore. Having seen police-involved deaths here in Oklahoma, I wanted to see what changes were being made and needed to be made to prevent the events of Baltimore from happening here. Speaking with both police and community leaders, I crafted my story. However, anyone in journalism can say how a story changes at a moment’s notice. One moment of breaking news drastically changed everything.

STORYTELLING WITH A SMARTPHONE

This story, being the first, was really meant to be with my technical comfort zone. I did not envision any difficult shots or recording challenges when I started. In fact, the work was made very easy as the phone served a critical part in the story’s development. I conducted research on my phone, made calls, used it’s GPS to get me to the various locations, monitored social media (which is how I discovered the in-custody death), logged my recordings, and was even considering downloading a police scanner app. The combination of the built-in features and apps allow for a great deal of innovation.

Both interior interviews were straightforward. I sat down, supported my elbows with the desktop, and held the phone with both hands (always shooting horizontally). I made sure both the interviews were in a quiet space. Smartphones ‘ microphones act omnidirectionally and will pick up a lot noise. It was imperative to get my phone very close to my subjects (3-4 feet). This shortcoming was what prevented me from getting any useful audio during the press talk by the police at the scene of the in-custody death. Having arrived in the middle of it, I couldn’t get any closer and kept at a distance that picked up too much traffic noise. Recording my own track was perhaps the easiest and I was happy with the quality of the recording.

Broll became considerable harder to film due to the lack of a worthwhile zoom on the camera. The phone did a satisfactory job in capturing wide shots but limited my angles and ability to focus on specific subjects. The medium shots of the police cars suffered both from quality and camera shake. This would be the primary reason why a smartphone would face challenges in reporting on sports and other stories that require the ability to zoom in on the action. To get those great closeups, you physically will need to get closer (which can’t always happen).

At many points in the story, I used video and pictures from other sources. A quick search of “Baltimore protests 2015” under a creative commons filter on Youtube turned up solid video. I also got permission from Mr. Washington to use his videos and images on Facebook. Some online download tools, such as keepvid.com, allowed me to easily get what I needed. With just the one phone, I utilized my laptop’s camera to record my conversations with the OKC media. Additionally, I used Quicktime’s screen capture ability to get the broll of the OKC PD social media sites. All of it allowed me to have many more elements in crafting my story.

For this story, I can’t say I really pushed the boundaries of smartphone use. I did however demonstrate that a complex story can be told with simple tools. I look forward in future entries to have more opportunities to getting up close to subjects and seeing what I can really do.

10 Commandments’ Future Remains Unclear

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24176535_SAThe future of a controversial Oklahoma monument continues to be debated. Oklahoma Rep. Mike Ritze sponsored a bill in 2009 to have a 10 commandments display installed on the State Capitol’s grounds. His family privately funded the memorial, which was finally erected in November of 2012.

Rep. Mike Ritze speaks about newly installed 10 commandments monument

Despite Oklahoma being firmly in the Bible belt, the display has received numerous complaints. Organizations like American Civil Liberties Union and American Atheists have filed lawsuits in response to the placement of the memorial. The ACLU states in their petition they, “declare the placement of the Ten Commandments Monument to be in violation of the Oklahoma Constitution, and as such, an illegal appropriation of public property in support of religion.”

ACLU files suit to remove 10 commandments monument

In addition, various religious organizations have sought equality by having monuments erected representing their beliefs. A New York Satanist group known as the Satanic Temple has crowd funded and lobbied for their own statue to be installed. Similarly, the Universal Society of Hinduism applied for the installment of a Hindu god monument.

Satanist group unveils design for Oklahoma State capitol monument

Hindu organization applies for memorial to be built Oklahoma State capitol grounds

The controversy over the 10 commandments and religious monuments has sparked discussion over the separation of faith and the State. An Oklahoma district judge dismissed the ACLU’s lawsuit that the display was unconstitutional. The ACLU disagrees with the ruling. The organization is now taking their appeal to Oklahoma’s Supreme Court.

While the debate surrounding the 10 commandments monument still stands, the statue does not. Last month, the memorial was dramatically destroyed in a bizarre act of vandalism.

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