As of this report, at least two students and eight teachers have died as a result of COVID-19. The number is expected to be higher for both students and teachers, as no government or private agency is currently keeping a count of deaths, the Tennessee Lookout reported.
Of the eight public school employees who died, three were elementary school teachers, one a pre-K assistant, one a cafeteria worker, one a bus driver, and two were high school teachers. According to spokesman Brian Blackley, the state Department of Education does not keep track of COVID-19 deaths of school employees, nor does the Tennessee Education Association. The reported deaths were confirmed through family and community members.
“This isn’t the first time we are seeing educators die as a result of COVID,” Tennessee Education Association president Beth Brown said Wednesday. “We’ve also lost students. We have families, communities, schools who are grieving. As we consider the losses and we consider the very real grief folks are experiencing, let’s not let it be politicized. Educators are such pillars of our communities and when we lose an educator it impacts so many people, including the students. I don’t want the very real grief to get lost in politics.”
The deaths follow warnings from the state health department. “I think we will see more children die because they are not protected with vaccines,” Dr. Michelle Fiscus, who headed the state’s vaccination efforts, told NewsChannel 5 Investigates. “We have a more virulent strain coming through.”
Fiscus noted that despite trying to get Gov. Bill Lee’s attention about the impact the lack of COVID-19 regulations would have on children, she failed. “They’re going to be again sitting in classrooms for seven-and-a-half, eight hours a day, riding on team buses, in locker rooms, and in close quarters with one another—with actually less protection than we had last year,” she explained.
Fiscus noted that while the chances of children becoming severely ill from COVID-19 may be rare, it is possible—and the long-term impacts, including lung damage, can be severe.
Since the school year began, at least two students have died as a result of COVID-19 in the state.
“Despite thinking the most dire times are behind us, we are now seeing them in front of us, and frankly, they are scary,” Dr. John Eick of Methodist Hospital told Fox News affiliate WZTV. “We thought we were past this,” he continued. “We thought we wouldn’t have to see this again.”
Eick emphasized the importance of wearing a mask especially for those ineligible for the vaccine.
Of the two reported child deaths, one was a 16-year-old football player from Memphis who contracted both COVID-19 and pneumonia.
“He wasn’t wheezing, he wasn’t coughing, he was just happy-go-lucky. He was at school for three days, and he just drastically got sick. It’s unbelievable,” Quintina Buckner said of her son.
Tennessee’s COVID-19 death toll continues to rise as some schools are being forced to close days after opening. As of this report, thousands of students are in quarantine or have been infected by the virus in the state.
Teachers are feeling lost and alone as infections spread across classrooms.
“They’re overwhelmed, they’re exasperated, and you know they’re exhausted,” Knox County Education Association President Paula Hancock said, noting the support teachers need.
But Tennessee is not alone. In other states, including South Carolina and Idaho, teachers have died due to a lack of masks and required vaccinations in schools. Across the country school districts are seeing a rise in positive cases since schools reopened, causing many to temporarily close down.
A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study also found that an unvaccinated teacher not only infected over a dozen students but that the infection spread to siblings and parents as well, Daily Kos reported. Additional research from CDC simulation projects found that without masking or testing, more than 75% of children in schools could be infected within three months.
Despite this evidence and the fact that some cities are thriving due to mask mandates, some Tennessee parents just don’t understand.
According to data released by the Department of Public Health Thursday, San Francisco schools have reported no COVID-19 outbreaks schools since they reopened to in-person learning in mid-August. California currently requires masking indoors at all schools, and San Francisco requires isolation for close contact rather than modified quarantine, which allows students in contact with a positive case to remain in school as long as they show no symptoms and get tested twice a week.
But these stats mean nothing to Tennessee parents who instead chose to mock those who have defended masks, including one teenager who shared the story of his grandmother’s COVID-19 death at a board meeting.
Parents shouted at and mocked Grady Knox, a junior at Central Magnet School, while he spoke at a Rutherford County School Board meeting Tuesday night. A clip of the incident, in which parents can be heard telling the teen to shut up as he spoke in favor of mask mandates in schools, quickly went viral.
“They’re higher risk than me, so I don’t want to give them COVID,” Knox said of his family. “This time last year, my grandmother, who was a former teacher at the Rutherford County school system, died of COVID because someone wasn’t wearing a mask.”
Despite the negativity, Knox stood strong and told reporters, “As long as I can get my message across, I don’t really think it matters what the crowd thinks of me.” He added: “Overall, they’re not the ones making the decisions for the school.”
A few days later, a temporary mask mandate was passed that is expected to begin on Sept. 13 and continue until Oct. 14.
Until more Tennessee schools pass these mask mandates, cases across the state and country will increase and more deaths will follow.