Within just a few days, two teachers from the same school district in Florida, both in their 40s, died from COVID-19
The delta variant of the coronavirus is still spreading out of control in the U.S., and almost nowhere has been hit as hard as southern states with low vaccination rates. In Florida, cases have risen astronomically in recent months. Yet the state’s governor has taken an active stance against policies that might help stop the spread, even going as far as to ban school districts from imposing mask mandates for their students and staff. Now, one Florida school district has had two teachers, both in their 40s, die from the virus within days of one another.
The Indian River County, comprised of a number of beachside communities on Florida’s east coast, announced the death of the first victim on Aug. 24. Tabitha Blair, 42, of Sebastian, was a fourth-grade teacher at Treasure Coast Elementary School. She was sick with COVID-19 all summer and was never able to return to the classroom for this school year. Her church, Sebastian Christian Church, said that she died on Aug. 18 and leaves behind two children.
On Aug. 26, the district lost another teacher. Sara Zevallos-Gonzalez, 45, was an English-Spanish teacher at Fellsmere Elementary School.
“Energetic young lady, full of life,” her principal, Ramon Echeverria, told local news. “One of these teachers that’s a teacher by nature and have a vocation for teaching.”
This heartbreaking news comes on the same day that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis began making good on his promise to withhold funding from school districts that defy his ban on mask mandates. So far, the governor has cut funding for Alachua County and Broward County. Earlier in the school year, Broward County had four teachers who died from COVID-19. A number of other school districts have also instituted mask mandates, despite the ban. Indian River County voted on Tuesday to start requiring masks in its schools — though it’s too late to save these two teachers.
Meanwhile, the outbreak in Florida is raging nearly unchecked. Over the last seven days, the state has seen an average of 16,000 people hospitalized each day, more than at any other point in the pandemic. Florida is also recording the highest number of daily deaths from COVID-19 in the nation: 262 each day. Of those who are eligible to receive COVID vaccines, only about 64 percent of Floridians have had at least one dose, far below the national average of 72 percent.