Arizona Teacher Dies From COVID-19 After Sharing Classroom With 2 Infected Teachers
Kim Chavez Lopez Byrd, a longtime elementary school teacher in Arizona, died on June 26 from COVID-19 after sharing a summer classroom with two other similarly infected teachers.
Those close to Lopez Byrd are now warning others of the risks involved with re-opening schools for students, teachers and parents alike.
Lopez Byrd along with Jena Martinez-Inzunza and Angela Skillings were sharing a classroom while teaching Hayden Winkelman Unified School District’s virtual summer school to kindergarten, first-grade and second-grade students when all three teachers were diagnosed with COVID-19. The school district is located about 100 miles southeast of Phoenix, Arizona.
Lopez Byrd originally became sick in early June but was diagnosed with a sinus infection. As the days went on and she felt increasingly worse, her daughter encouraged her to go to the hospital where she tested positive for COVID-19 on June 13. The late teacher was put on a ventilator one day after she tested positive for the virus.
Around the same time both Martinez-Inzunza and Skillings tested positive for coronavirus, but Lopez Byrd’s son, Luke Byrd, stated “they’re making a recovery, but it’s still difficult for them.”
The superintendent of Hayden Winkelman Unified School District, Jeff Gregorich, commented on the situation in a statement. “All three were working together to learn how to teach online. They took extra precautions because Jena is a cancer survivor and has a compromised immune system. They followed the CDC guidelines and more.”
Byrd also stated that his mother and the two other teachers were very careful in the summer classroom. “They were doing whatever they could to stay safe. They were wearing masks, gloves, using hand sanitizer constantly.”
Lopez Byrd was 63 and suffered from asthma, lupus and diabetes. She was very much at risk for contracting the virus and the family knew if she somehow got COVID-19, “it would have just destroyed her. And it did,” Byrd said.
A number of Lopez Byrd’s family members have since tested positive for the virus including her husband Jesse, son Luke, and her two other adult children.
It is unclear where or how Lopez Byrd contracted the virus. “That’s really hard for us to talk about just cause like I know personally, me and my brother and my sister, we try not to think about that because what if one of us gave it to her? That’s hard to think about,” Byrd said.
Lopez Byrd’s family members are warning others of the risk of reopening schools at the end of summer break. “I don’t think it’s safe. I think it reckless and dangerous because a lot of the teachers here in Arizona are older, and that’s who this disease targets,” her son said.
“It’s not fair to the teachers, it’s not fair to the students who will take it home to their parents. We can hold off on bringing kids back into the schools. We can do that. It’s not worth risking people’s lives,” Byrd said.
Recently, President Donald Trump and his administration have been pushing for schools to fully reopen in the fall. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos defended the Trump administration’s aggressive push to reopen schools on Sunday.
As for the schools in Hayden Winkelman Unified School District, they will only be opening for online classes in August. “Right now is not the right time to open school in the middle of a pandemic. We believe medical experts should drive opening of our schools, not politics. Lives will be lost of we open school now. America can’t afford the loss of another Kim,” Gregorich said.