Family of Arizona teacher who died from COVID-19 speaks out as schools prepare for new school year

The death of an Arizona teacher from COVID-19 is sending shockwaves through the teaching community.

Kimberly Chavez Lopez Byrd, who taught in the Hayden-Winkelman Unified School District for 38 years, passed away from COVID-19 on June 26, and two other teachers with whom she shared a classroom during summer school tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

Byrd started feeling sick and developed symptoms while teaching virtual K-2 summer school classes. Soon after that, co-worker Angela Skillings said Byrd was taken to the hospital.

When the school’s staff found out Byrd tested positive for the virus, they were notified and were tested. Skillings and another teacher named Jena Martinez-Inzunza also tested positive for COVID-19.

About one week after Byrd developed symptoms, Skillings said things took a turn for the worse. “That’s when our faith had to come in,” she said.

Byrd later passed away. Her death came as school districts face pressure from the government to re-open classrooms in the fall amid a recent surge in COVID-19 cases.

Family speaks out

Byrd's family members say while she had asthma, she signed up to teach summer school due to her love for the job, in addition to trying to earn extra money.

"She was just so kind and understanding of the kids. She cared so much about them," said Byrd's son, Luke Byrd.

Luke says his mother's symptoms started with sinus issues, as well as a mild fever and cough. By the second week, she had to go to the hospital. The very next day, she went on a ventilator and never came off of it.

"You always think what were they feeling in that last moment, and you don’t know and it hurts," said Luke.

Byrd's health was compromised, but her son insists she was always cautious, wearing a mask and face shield, and routinely sanitizing everything around her.

“We shouldn’t be asking our teachers that: are you prepared to die to teach the students?" said Luke. "That’s not fair to them or their families, and it’s not fair to the students."

The worst part for Luke is that he couldn’t say goodbye to his mom, with isolation becoming that extra dose of cruelty that comes with COVID-19

"I’d want her to know how much we loved her, but I want her to be remembered for how much she loved others," said Like.

School district deciding on schedule for new school year

Meanwhile, the Hayden-Winkelman Unified School District is deciding on July 15 on the upcoming school year. The superintendent has suggested online learning for the first quarter, with students possibly returning to class by the end of October, adding that they will be as prepared as they can be.

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On, you'll find extensive coverage about COVID-19, including breaking news from around the country, exclusive interviews with health officials, and informative content from a variety of public health resources.

COVID-19 symptoms

Symptoms for coronavirus COVID-19 include fever, coughing, and shortness of breath. These, of course, are similar to the common cold and flu. 

Expect a common cold to start out with a sore or scratchy throat, cough, runny and/or stuffy nose. Flu symptoms are more intense and usually come on suddenly, and can include a high fever. 

Symptoms of COVID-19 may appear more slowly. They usually include fever, a dry cough and noticeable shortness of breath, according to the World Health Organization. A minority of cases develop pneumonia, and the disease is especially worrisome for the elderly and those with other medical problems such as high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes or heart conditions.

RELATED: Is it the flu, a cold or COVID-19? Different viruses present similar symptoms

COVID-19 resources

CDC Website for COVID-19 (In Spanish/En Español)

AZDHS Website for COVID-19 (In Spanish/En Español)