A trio of Arizona teachers sharing a summer school classroom all contracted the coronavirus last month, despite apparently taking the recommended safety precautions, with one of them dying, according to multiple reports.
61-year-old Kimberly Chavez Lopez Byrd died on June 26, which was less than two weeks after she was hospitalized. The other two teachers who contracted the virus, Jena Martinez and Angela Skillings, are said to still be struggling. The three teachers had combined to conduct online classes for an audience composed of kindergartners, plus first and second-graders.
According to reports, the three teachers had all been wearing gloves and masks, in addition to maintaining their social distance, and using hand sanitizer. "We were very careful" Skillings told the Arizona Republic.
Byrd had been working with the school district for 38 years. She had previously retired, but decided to return to the classroom as a first-grade teacher on account of missing the job.
"Losing Mrs. Byrd in our small rural community was devastating. She was an excellent educator with a huge heart," said the school's principal, Pamela Gonzalez. "We find comfort in knowing her story may bring awareness to the importance of keeping our school employees safe and our precious students safe in this pandemic."
CNN notes that Byrd did have pre-existing conditions (which greatly increases the danger of the virus) including: asthma, lupus, and diabetes. To treat the disease, she was prescribed antibiotics and steroids, and ended up being admitted to the emergency room on June 13. After arriving to the hospital, she was immediately put on oxygen. A day later she was put on a ventilator, which is the last day that she spoke to her husband.
Arizona is one of several U.S. states currently experiencing a surge of the virus. On Sunday, 2,537 new cases were reported, bringing the state's current total to 122,467. Over a third of those cases have racked up this month. Note that 2,237 Arizonans have also died due to COVID, according to the latest numbers.
Byrd's death comes at a time in which officials are debating bringing back traditional school learning (see: kids and teachers in classrooms together).
The superintendent for the district in which Byrd taught, Jeff Gregorich, cited the teacher's death during an argument against opening in-school learning.
“I think [that] really the message or the concern that our staff has is, we can’t even keep our staff safe by themselves. … How are we going to keep 20 kids in a classroom safe?” Gregorich said to CNN. “I just don’t see how that’s possible to do that.”
Arizona, specifically, had been targeting a reopening date for their schools in early August, but Governor Doug Ducey made an announcement last month saying that that reopening will be pushed back until at least August 17. At the moment, learning in Arizona schools will begin again "when it's safe."
Right now that seems a ways off.