Kentucky elementary suffers third COVID-19 death among staff
FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — A grief-stricken elementary school in eastern Kentucky suffered its third COVID-19 death among its staff since the school term began when a beloved counselor died from the coronavirus, the district’s superintendent said Tuesday.
Lee County Elementary counselor Rhonda Estes died Monday, Superintendent Sarah Wasson said. Estes was a fixture in the tight-knit community, working 35 years for the school system. A custodian and an instructional aide at the same school also died from the virus in recent weeks.
“It’s just really hard,” Wasson said in a phone interview. “We’re really grieving the loss.”
Gov. Andy Beshear was among those expressing condolences.
The pandemic continued to hit Kentucky hard Tuesday, with the governor reporting 3,391 new COVID-19 cases and 31 more virus-related deaths, fueled by the fast-spreading delta variant. The statewide death toll from the virus reached at least 8,370. More than 2,280 virus patients were hospitalized in Kentucky, including 664 in intensive care units and 445 on ventilators.
Meanwhile, the Lee County school system was mourning its latest pandemic-related death. Estes was remembered for helping shape students’ lives over the decades.
“She just was a calming force,” Wasson said. “She had a positive outlook, regardless of the circumstance that she was in. She encouraged other people and inspired them. She did little things behind the scenes to help others in anything that they did.”
Counselors were being brought in for students and staff, she said.
Lee County Elementary custodian Bill Bailey died of COVID-19 earlier this month. Instructional aide Heather Antle died from the virus in late August.
The Lee County school board voted last week to keep its universal masking policy in schools for the time being. With a few exceptions, school boards across Kentucky voted to keep masks on students and staffs while at school as the delta variant continues to drive up COVID-19 infections and deaths.
The state’s Republican-led legislature recently shifted masking decisions to local school leaders.
Follow more of AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic.