Media outlets are again fearmongering over COVID-19—this time as it relates to schools reopening across the country.
The Washington Post on Thursday reported that at least six teachers have died since school began again, with most states implementing some kind of hybrid education system where students would spend a couple days a week in class and the rest remote learning from home. The Hill took the Post’s report a step further with the more frightening headline: “Teachers in at least five states have died with coronavirus since fall semester started.” The report acknowledges that six teachers died across those five states, but waits to explain that it “is unknown whether these teachers became infected at school.”
Looking into the specific cases, however, suggests the teachers did not contract the virus while at their respective schools. This does not lessen the tragedy of their deaths—however, the media should not use their deaths to scare others unnecessarily.
Tom Slade, 53, was a beloved history teacher at Vancleave High School in Mississippi, who inspired students into majoring in history themselves. The Biloxi Sun Herald reported that Slade tested positive for COVID-19 on August 24, before school started, and that his sister said he had been exposed to the virus at a gathering outside of school. It doesn’t appear as though he returned to the school after testing positive.
Nacoma James, 42, was an assistant high school football coach and teacher at Lafayette Middle School in Mississippi. Mississippi Today reported that district Superintendent Adam Pugh said James didn’t have contact with students or teachers after the school year resumed, as he did not return to the classroom.
“No one has told me officially that he had COVID, but I do know he was self-quarantining this week,” Pugh told the outlet. “Last Thursday would’ve been the last contact he had with any students, at summer workouts for the (high school) football team. I’m not exactly sure what symptoms he had, but he wasn’t around students or teachers this week.”
Demetria “Demi” Bannister, 28, was a teacher at Windsor Elementary School. The last time she was at the school was August 28 as part of a teacher workday prior to school starting again, The State reported. It is unclear where she contracted the virus.
Theresa Horn, 62, was a special education teacher at Tahlequah Public Schools in Oklahoma, who died of a heart attack after she tested positive for COVID-19, KTUL reported. It’s not even clear that COVID-19 caused her heart attack. Classes at the school were being taught virtually, so she had no contact with students. It is also unclear when she contracted the virus. The Des Moines Register reported that another special education teacher died the week before virtual classes began in Iowa.
The only one of these cases that may show a teacher contracting the virus after school began came from Missouri, where special education teacher AshLee DeMarinis died after she began showing symptoms four days after school began.
The real concern from these cases comes from whether the teachers would have passed the virus on to students or others had they returned to campus after contracting it themselves, but that issue was ignored in favor of the fearmongering approach taken by media outlets.