AshLee DeMarinis, 34, was nervous about returning to her job as a middle school teacher in Missouri. She had asthma, which put her at a higher risk for complications from COVID-19.

“She taught special education, and it was just her calling,” her sister told The Washington Post. “Her students loved her and her colleagues loved her.”

Ms. DeMarinis died earlier this month from the coronavirus after spending 3 weeks on a ventilator at the hospital. She is at least the sixth educator to succumb to the virus since schools reopened in early August.

Educators in Iowa, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma and South Carolina have also died after contracting COVID-19 since the start of the fall semester. Mississippi alone has reported 604 cases of the virus among school teachers and staff.

Did the Infections Come from School?

While it isn’t yet clear if the teachers contracted the virus at school, their deaths have raised questions about whether it’s possible to contain community spread while conducting in-person schooling.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said schools must implement mandatory face coverings and strict social distancing rules in order to safely reopen to students and staff.

“If community spread is too high as it is in Missouri and Mississippi, if you don’t have the infrastructure of testing, and if you don’t have the safeguards that prevent the spread of viruses in the school, we believe that you cannot reopen in person,” he told ABC News.

Among those who died are:

  • Demetria “Demi” Bannister, a 28-year-old third-grade teacher in Columbia, SC
  • Tom Slade, a 53-year-old high school history teacher in Vancleave, MS
  • Nacoma James a 42-year-old football coach in Oxford, MS
  • Teresa Horn, a 62-year-old special education teacher in Tahlequah, OK

A special education teacher died a week before virtual classes started in Des Moines, Iowa, according to the Des Moines Register.