13 unvaccinated Florida school staffers died of COVID in a matter of weeks
A Florida school district is reeling after more than a dozen staffers died from COVID-19 in less than a month. Since August 16, Miami-Dade County Public Schools have lost 13 employees — that includes four teachers, seven bus drivers, a cafeteria worker, and a security staffer, according to CNN.
All 13 were unvaccinated, and all were also African-American. The head of the local teachers union, Karla Hernandez-Mats, says the tragic situation underscores how much work needs to be done to build more trust in the vaccine, especially among people of color.
“All that misinformation is creating a lot of fear and this is an underserved community,” Hernandez-Mats said. “We looked at the data that we got from the department of health here in the county and basically what it told us was that 30% of the African American community is vaccinated, and that’s way below our averages here.”
Many of those 13 deaths likely could have been prevented by a vaccine. If there’s a silver lining to this story, however, it’s that the union helped organize a vaccine pop-up site in memory of their deceased co-workers. In a matter of hours, 40 people had gotten the shot. There are plans for another pop-up in the coming weeks to distribute second doses.
“The loss of any of our employees is one that is always profoundly felt as every member of this organization is considered a part of Miami-Dade County Public Schools family,” the district said in a statement following news reports of the deaths. “We extend our hearts and prayers to the loved ones of those whose lives have recently been lost.”
To help get vaccine rates up among staff, the district is also proposing offering a $275 stipend to any employee who shows proof that they got the shot.
Miami-Dade County Public Schools have already experienced a staggering loss, and without some major changes — more losses are very possible. Since the beginning of the academic year –August 23 — there have been more than 200 positive cases among students, and another nearly 200 among staffers.
That all comes as the state remains locked in a court battle over the legality of mask mandates. Miami-Dade is among the school districts that defied the governor’s ban on masks and is enforcing them for its 350,000 students. Given the deaths they’ve already experienced, it’s hard not to wonder how much an already terrible situation could be even school officials hadn’t made that decision.