FORT LAUDERDALE, FLA. (WSVN) - Correction: The Broward Teachers Union originally announced three teachers had died from COVID-19 but have since corrected that to two.
Days before the school year is set to start in Broward County, two teachers and an assistant have died from COVID-19, all in a 24-hour period, the president of the county’s teachers union said.
Broward Teachers Union President Anna Fusco made the announcement on Thursday. She said the teachers and assistant were in their upper 40s and were not vaccinated.
“It’s a very sad opening of school,” she said. “Everybody is just shocked, and they’re devastated, and their hearts are broken.”
One teacher has been identified as Janice Wright of Pinewood Elementary School in North Lauderdale, and the two others have only been identified as a teacher and teacher’s aide from Dillard Elementary School in Fort Lauderdale.
“She was a good teacher, good friend, good wife. She was good,” Wright’s friend Katrina Whittaker said. “She cared about the kids. She really cared about them. If they were hungry, she made sure they ate. If they didn’t come to school, she made sure to call the parents. She really cared about her kids.”
Whittaker said Wright had planned to get vaccinated but did not get the chance. She added the schoolteacher was found dead in her bed by her husband.
“The lesson is please everybody, please don’t wait to go get vaccinated,” Whittaker said. “Please go now, run.”
The news comes as the delta variant of the virus quickly spreads throughout South Florida and the country. A new study that has not yet been peer reviewed shows some startling numbers.
“This is why I have been so adamant about every person in our school environment wearing a mask, because we continue to lose people,” BCPS Chair Dr. Rosalind Osgood said.
“They’re standing up, and they know that they need to protect our students and protect all of the employees of Broward County Public Schools,” Fusco said. “Thank God they did it.”
While health officials say breakthrough cases are possible, the Mayo Clinic has found the Moderna vaccine could possibly be better at preventing a delta infection than the Pfizer vaccine.
The study, which looked at numbers in Minnesota, shows that in January, Moderna had an efficacy of 86%. In July, when the delta became dominant, that percentage dropped to 76%.
With Pfizer, researchers saw a more drastic drop, from 76% in January to just 42% in July.
However, the study found both vaccines still offer strong protection from severe illness, so while patients may still test positive, it’s unlikely they’ll end up in the hospital or worse.
This is why health experts and officials have continued to encourage people to receive the vaccine.
“Unvaccinated folks are being hospitalized and dying as a result of not being vaccinated,” said President Joe Biden.
On Thursday, the Sunshine State reported close to 25,000 new cases, a new one-day record.
Now, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration are recommending immunocompromised Americans to receive a booster shot.
“An additional dose could help increase protection for these individuals, which is especially important as the delta variant spreads,” said CDC Director Rochelle Walensky.
As of Thursday, more than 15,000 Floridians were in the hospital with the virus, and nearly half of every intensive care unit bed in the state has a COVID-19 patient in it.
“The staffing has been really the biggest issue that we’ve dealt with throughout the whole pandemic,” said Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
DeSantis said his office is working to bring more healthcare workers to the state, while he reconsiders how the Florida Department of Health will release COVID metrics.
When it comes to masks in the classroom, Broward County is making it mandatory, regardless of the governor’s stance against it.
“You’re going to have to make a decision to not take your salary, so that money can go toward the classroom,” Osgood said.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona wrote to DeSantis, “The department stands with these dedicated educators who are working to safely reopen schools and maintain safe in-person instruction.”
On Thursday, The Miami Herald reported that despite the threats to withhold paychecks from district leaders who enforce mask requirements, the governor’s office may not actually have that authority.
“This isn’t about policy. It’s about keeping our children safe,” said Biden.
Miami-Dade County Superintendent Alberto Carvalho said they will make a decision in the coming days.
“Our children’s lives, their well-being, the lives of our teachers, your lives are too important,” Carvalho said. “There is no threat, at least to me, to my paycheck, to my salary that will force me to abdicate from doing the right thing.”
On Friday, a small group of parents of students in Catholic schools gathered outside of the Archdiocese of Miami to protest against their mask mandate. Masks are optional for fully-vaccinated high school students in the Archdiocese.
“We pray that this meeting will bear fruit for the life of the church, for our families, for the culture of life,” a parent said.
Those in attendance said the decision should be left to the parents.
“We don’t feel hurt right now,” parent Tammy Garcia said. “You know, it’s a mandate and where is our voice?”
BCPS has sent a letter to the governor’s office in response to his letter. The board said, “Prioritizing parent-choice over safety and the advice of health experts in the CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics threatens the safety in schools and does not promote a secure environment for students, thus it is in direct violation of the Florida Constitutional Mandates.”
Fusco added that although vaccines are not mandated for Broward educators, it is something, at this point, the union would not stand in the way of.
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