“It just feels like a bad dream that I can’t wake up from,” said Jesse Byrd, the husband of beloved late first-grade instructor Kimberley Chavez Lopez Byrd, 61, to the Arizona Republic.
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His wife had previously retired, only to miss the classroom so much that she eventually returned to the job as a first-grade teacher in the Hayden-Winkelman Unified School District in Gila County.
In June, Kimberley and two other teachers — Angela Skillings and Jena Martinez-Inzunza — got together in one classroom to conduct classes for a group of kindergartners and first- and second-graders, who watched the educators online as they performed fun nature-inspired experiments such as using Cheetos to demonstrate bee pollination.
The women said they work masks and gloves, socially distanced and used hand sanitizer to keep themselves safe, CNN reported.
“We were very careful,” Skillings told the Republic.
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Kimberley — who suffered from diabetes, lupus and asthma — was the first to test positive for the virus, and by June 26, fewer than two weeks after she became a confirmed case, she was dead.
The two other teachers tested positive soon after Kimberley did and said they are still suffering from complications.
Arizona is among a slew of US states suffering from a recent surge in the virus.
The state reported 2,537 new cases of the contagion Sunday, for a current total of 122,467 — more than a third of which occurred just so far this month, according to statistics from Arizona’s Health Department.
There were another 86 deaths reported Sunday in Arizona, too, for a total of 2,237 fatalities. There were 69 deaths reported Saturday and 44 the day before. The highest daily death toll for the state was 177 fatalities Tuesday.
Most schools in the state had a reopening date of early August, until Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey said last month that they would be delayed till at least Aug. 17. Last week, Ducey only added that in-school learning would start up again “when it is safe,” the Republic reported.
State schools chief Kathy Hoffman wrote on Facebook on July 9, “Today, over 2,000 Arizonans have died from #COVID19. Among those is tragically Kimberley Chavez Lopez Byrd, a first-grade teacher in the Hayden-Winkelman Unified School District.
“Teachers’ dedication to serving students should not come at high risk. Arizona must do more to slow the spread of COVID19 and ensure a safe re-entry into our classrooms.”
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District Superintendent Jeff Gregorich cited Kimberley’s death in arguing against the reopening of local schools in the traditional sense.
“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?” he told CNN.
“I just don’t see how that’s possible to do that.”
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