An elementary school in eastern Kentucky has now lost three staffers to COVID-19 within less than a month, with a longtime guidance counselor becoming the latest victim this week.
The death of Rhonda Estes, a guidance counselor at Lee County Elementary School in Beattyville, was confirmed by the school district on Monday.
“It is with a heavy heart that I confirm we have lost a dear friend and colleague this afternoon due to a covid related illness,” Lee County Superintendent Sarah Wasson told the Lexington Herald-Leader. Wasson went on to praise Estes, whom she described as “a special part of the Lee County family for over 31 years.”
Estes’ death came just a little over a week after school custodian Bill Bailey died from COVID-19 complications. And just a few weeks before that, in late August, instructional assistant Heather Antle succumbed to the virus.
The spate of deaths at the school comes in spite of a universal masking policy requiring all staff, students, and visitors to don a protective face covering. It was not immediately clear if the three staffers were vaccinated against the virus.
Nearly 40 teachers in the state have lost their lives to the virus since 2020, according to the educators’ group Kentucky 120 United, which has been tracking mitigation strategies in schools and compiling information about those who have died. As of Thursday, the death toll stood at 35, but just a few days later, that number has already continued to climb, with Estes and a high-school teacher in Shelby County added to the grim figure.
Matt Cockrell, an art teacher at Martha Layne Collins High School, died Sunday, just a few months after getting married, his wife announced via social media on Sunday.
“He fought so hard. I was told 5 different times that he wasn’t going to make it and he kept pushing and kept fighting until the very end,” his wife, Carly Cockrell, wrote on Facebook. “He was surrounded by his family when his spirit was lifted up.”
Cockrell’s vaccination status was also unclear.