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Gila County AZ teacher dies of coronavirus

Kimberley Chavez Lopez Byrd loved teaching so much that the 61-year-old Arizona woman returned to work after retiring, according to the Arizona Republic.

“She was a wonderful teacher, respected by everyone she worked with,” said Jeff Gregorich, superintendent of the Hayden-Winkelman Unified School District, KSAZ reported. “She was the one who would go above and beyond to help anyone.”

With children stuck at home, Byrd shared a classroom with two other teachers for a virtual summer school program, CNN reported. The teachers wore masks and gloves and cleaned equipment regularly.

“We were very careful,”

; said teacher Angela Skillings, Arizona Republic reported. But Byrd, Skillings and Jena Martinez-Inzunza all came down with coronavirus.

Burden, who also had lupus, diabetes and asthma, died June 26 after being hospitalized, CNN reported. The first-grade teacher died shortly after his 24th wedding anniversary.

“It just feels like a bad dream that I can’t wake up from,” said Jesse Byrd, her husband, KSAZ reported. “We just felt so lost without her.”

Kimberley Byrd’s colleagues say her death acts as a warning when national leaders, including President Donald Trump and Education Minister Betsy DeVos, are pushing for a full reopening of schools this fall.

“Kids have to be in school,” DeVos told CNN Sunday. “I think the go-to has to be kids in school, personally, in the classroom.”

But Gregorich, district superintendent where Kimberley Byrd taught for 38 years, says it’s too early for that, KSAZ reported. “Arizona can’t afford to lose more Mrs. Byrds,” he said.

An analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation reports that 1 in 4 teachers risk getting a serious illness if they catch COVID-19, according to CNN. Like Kimberley Byrd, about 1.5 million have diabetes, heart disease, obesity or other conditions that put them at higher risk.

“We will lose a lot of teachers if they bring the kids back,” said Gregorich, Arizona Republic reported.

Kimberley Byrd began teaching school in eastern Arizona in 1982, the Arizona Republic reported.

“She was exactly what you would want to be a teacher because she had patience, kindness, discipline,” Skillings said.

“Many of her classroom rules were based on children respecting each other and being kind to each other and not bullying – it was really important to her,” Jesse Byrd said, CNN reported.

Kimberley Byrd had begun to feel ill while teaching virtual summer school, KSAZ reported.

Her children eventually convinced her to go to the hospital’s emergency room, where she was hospitalized with coronavirus, The Arizona Republic reported. Her husband could not walk with her.

“She called me, she could barely talk,” Jesse Byrd said, according to the publication. “And she told me they wanted to intubate her and put her on a fan.”

It was the last time he talked to his wife. After Kimberley Byrd gathered, doctors tried to remove her from the ventilator but she suffered a panic attack and her condition continued to decline, the Arizona Republic reported.

“We just asked for a miracle, and we put her in God’s hands and we said that either he will do a miracle in her and save her or he will take her home,” Jesse Byrd told CNN.

Skillings and Martinez-Inzunza are recovering from COVID-19, KSAZ reported.

“They don’t have any companies that open schools to try to get back into a traditional classroom … let’s get through this pandemic before we try to get back to normal,” Jesse Byrd said, according to CNN.

More than 12.7 million cases of the COVID-19 virus have been confirmed worldwide with more than 566,000 deaths from Sunday, July 12, according to Johns Hopkins University. The United States has more than 3.2 million confirmed cases with more than 134,000 deaths.

The World Health Organization has declared coronavirus a global pandemic. In the US, Trump has declared a national emergency.

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Don Sweeney has been a newspaper reporter and editor in California for more than 25 years. He has been a real-time reporter based on The Sacramento Bee since 2016.

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