Despite most medical professionals saying “Hey, don’t do that,” schools across the country are steadily beginning to reopen. In Mississippi, the death of a beloved teacher while self-quarantining has increased fears of a COVID-19 outbreak during the first week of school.
Mississippi Today reports that 42-year-old Nacoma James, a Black man, died on Thursday while self-quarantining after displaying symptoms of COVID-19. James was a teacher at Lafayette Middle School and an assistant high school football coach. While students and teachers returned to the school earlier this week, James remained at home. “No one has told me officially that he had COVID, but I do know he was self-quarantining this week,” Adam Pugh, the district’s Superintendent, told Mississippi Today.
Pugh said James had been in contact with students throughout the summer during football training and the last time he saw them was last Thursday. Officials for the school district are now working on contact tracing to determine which students may have been exposed. Pugh was understandably emotional speaking to the news outlet. “I’ve known (James) since he was 13 years old because he was a student of mine in one of my very first classes. He was such a loving person and a brilliant young man. We’re devastated by this. This has been a really rough day,” Pugh said.
Earlier this week, Mississippi’s Republican Governor Tate Reeves defied the advice of state medical officials and allowed schools across the state to reopen, only implementing delays in counties that are currently hotspots for the virus. The Mississippi Association of Educators released a statement calling the governor’s plan “reckless and irresponsible,” and said, “it ignores the advice of the state’s top medical officials and is putting students and educators and their families at risk.”
The Corinth School District was the first to reopen in late July and is currently in the midst of a coronavirus outbreak at all of its schools. So far six students and two teachers have tested positive for the virus and approximately 150 students are currently in quarantine. Mississippi is one of the states hardest hit by the pandemic and is currently on track towards becoming one of the nation’s hotspots. In the previous week alone it saw cases rise by 1,775 over the course of just one day, ABC News reported.
“In my 30 years in education and the last 12 as a superintendent, I’ve lost more sleep over keeping kids safe than anything,” Pugh told Mississippi Today. “Does all this have me worried? Absolutely. I want to keep all of our students as safe as I possibly can. This all worries me a great deal.”