TUCSON, Ariz. (KGUN) — Correction: "Early information received by the Arizona Department of Education indicated six deaths due to COVID last week in the TUSD community. However, we have since confirmed with the district that the correct number is four. The loss of any educator is a tragedy, and we grieve alongside the TUSD family and the loved ones of those lost to the virus," an Arizona Department of Education spokesperson said to KGUN9 via email.
COVID has hit Tucson Unified School District -- the only Southern Arizona district to remain remote-only -- very hard.
District officials confirmed Wednesday night at least four district employees died of COVID in the last week of January.
"I lost one of my colleagues last week as well," said Margaret Chaney, Tucson Education Agency president. "So we weren't very close, but it is a strange feeling."
An emotional reaction on the deaths in the district. She's been advocating for the safety of TUSD staff throughout the pandemic.
"This is the very thing that we were afraid would happen and, sadly, we are not the only district suffering from the impact of this virus," Chaney said.
KGUN 9 first learned of six employee deaths in TUSD from Arizona Superintendent Kathy Hoffman.
"I heard from an educator that shared with me just last week in Tucson, one district lost 6 employees to COVID," Hoffman said on Phoenix radio station KTAR. "They died from COVID just in one week. So for that community they have, they are enduring this trauma, they're coping."
Hoffman didn't specify the district, but when KGUN 9 reached out to the Arizona Department of Education we were told a Tucson Unified principal reached out to her with the information.
TUSD clarified Wednesday four employees died within five days in the last week of January.
Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo tweeted condolences hours later.
A Superintendent's saddest moment is being notified of the passing of an employee. Sadly, last week, our Tucson Unified community lost 4 cherished employees to COVID in 5 days, a tragic reminder of the very human toll exacted by this virus.Prayers for the families of the departed— Gabriel Trujillo (@Gabriel18839216) February 4, 2021
District leaders didn't provide much information about whether these employees had any underlying conditions or other contributing health issues, but that's because privacy laws prevent specific health details from being released to the public.
TEA President Margaret Chaney shared what she's heard about the deaths.
"From what I understand, most victims fell while they were at home. Where exactly they contracted it, I'm not certain," Chaney said. "I know a couple did contract it from you know, outlying areas. They weren't at work at least as far as tracing goes. But we have had a number of people get sick at various locations. And so that has created a staffing shortage."
Cheney says grief support could go a long way for the entire TUSD community.
I think when you lose that many people in a short amount of time, yes, you do need to reach out to the whole community," Chaney said. "You never know how people have crisscrossed with one another and the impact that they share."
The district tells KGUN it will hold a memorial on February 9th at the Governing Board meeting.
We reached out to ADE for clarification on the number of deaths and have so far not heard back.