A Teacher Who Contracted COVID-19 Cautions Against In-Person Schooling : Coronavirus Live Updates Three teachers in rural Arizona contracted COVID-19 after working together in a classroom. One of them died. NPR's Steve Inskeep talks to Jena Martinez-Inzunza about her experience.
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A Teacher Who Contracted COVID-19 Cautions Against In-Person Schooling

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A Teacher Who Contracted COVID-19 Cautions Against In-Person Schooling

A Teacher Who Contracted COVID-19 Cautions Against In-Person Schooling

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

It's easy to think of the pandemic as a story of cities like Los Angeles where the schools will be closed. It's also the story of rural communities like Winkelman, Ariz. Jena Martinez-Inzunza grew up there.

JENA MARTINEZ-INZUNZA: We're a very small mining community town.

INSKEEP: What kind of mining is it?

MARTINEZ-INZUNZA: Copper mining.

INSKEEP: And is this the kind of beautiful, stark landscape I would imagine in much of Arizona?

MARTINEZ-INZUNZA: Cactus blooming, yeah. It's your typical desert landscape with Salados and ocotillos and palo verdes. It's beautiful. It's beautiful to me.

INSKEEP: Martinez teaches first grade. When the school district closed in March, she struggled to teach remotely in a community where some families aren't on the Internet. In June, the teachers returned to school for just a few hours. They were preparing materials for summer school. Martinez worked in a room with two other teachers. She says they all kept their distance. But all three contracted coronavirus and one, Kimberley Chavez Lopez Byrd, died.

MARTINEZ-INZUNZA: It's hard to listen to being told, oh, it's not that hard.

INSKEEP: To open schools, you mean. Not that hard is what you're...

MARTINEZ-INZUNZA: Open schools, you know, things like that. It's just - there's a lot to say about those comments. And it's devastating. You know, the day that we do go back to school, kids are going to look for Ms. Byrd that do not understand that she's gone. Ms. Byrd's not going to be there. So it's not going to be black-and-white, we're going straight in and we're going to have scheduling and classroom management. And it's not going to be that. The loss of Ms. Byrd in our school impacted everyone.

INSKEEP: I want to ask about opening schools this fall. But I want to ask first what Kimberley Byrd was like, your colleague.

MARTINEZ-INZUNZA: Oh, I could talk to you about her all day. She was very dear to me. She's one of my closest friends. But she was a very loving, very faithful person. And she was very kind. She always loved watching kids find their way, find their strong points and be able to get them to understand that everyone is different. We all have strengths and weaknesses. And that's OK. And that was the message and the love that she brought to our lives.

INSKEEP: Does it feel like the right choice to you to not come back in person when school resumes?

MARTINEZ-INZUNZA: At this moment in time, considering I am a teacher in Arizona and we are a hotspot, our numbers are rising, that's an easy answer for me. It's not the right time.

INSKEEP: If it gets to be September, October, November and the numbers look a little better and the authorities say, OK, let's try in-person school now, will you be going?

MARTINEZ-INZUNZA: If we have flattened our curve, if we have lowered our numbers because Arizonans will become more diligent and understand that this is real, this is happening and the danger that comes with repopulating schools in Arizona - if everybody does their part, we can help our health care workers. We can help the nurses who are on the front line. We can help the hospitals. But when they're filling up and we are not taking this seriously, we are not helping them. And if we're not going to help them, it's just going to be worse when we repopulate schools.

INSKEEP: Jena Martinez-Inzunza has been a teacher for 25 years, mostly at Hayden Winkelman Unified School District in Arizona. Thank you very much.

MARTINEZ-INZUNZA: Thank you.

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