NORTH LAUDERDALE, Fla. – Janice Wright, who was a Broward County Public Schools special education teacher and a Broward Teachers Union steward at Pinewood Elementary School in North Lauderdale, died of complications with COVID-19 just before she had planned to get the vaccine. She was 48.
Katrina Whittaker, a longtime friend, said on Friday evening Wright was her son’s kindergarten teacher. She said Wright was diligent about wearing face masks. She doesn’t know why Wright didn’t get the vaccine against COVID, but one of their last conversations while she was dealing with symptoms still haunts her.
“She asked me 100 questions about the shot and that’s why I was shocked,” Whittaker said. “I was like, ‘Don’t worry about it. You’ve got the shot, right?’ She said, ‘No, I was going to get it this week.’”
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported the fast spread of the coronavirus’ Delta variant and vaccine hesitancy continue to be a deadly combination. The CDC has also blamed the Delta variant for vaccine breakthrough cases that are rarely deadly.
On Friday, Anna Fusco, the president of BTU, also identified two other BCPS employees who worked at Dillard Elementary School and who also died of COVID as Yolanda Hudson Williams, 49, a teacher assistant, and Katina Jones, 49, a teacher. Fusco didn’t know their vaccination status. She described Wright as a “happy-go-lucky” person and a “kind-spirited” team player.
In Broward County, pediatric COVID cases are also on the rise. The vaccine is only available to children who are 12 or older. Pediatric nurses and doctors are recommending that parents get their children vaccinated and have them wear a face mask in public places. Emergency room pediatric nurses are bracing for a rise in cases after children go back to school — when there is usually already an expected rise in colds, and flu cases.
The data on COVID infections in Broward County was alarming enough to motivate school board members to agree to implement a universal face mask mandate without the opt-out option that Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered on July 30th. They decided to stand by their decision despite threats from the Florida Department of Education to withhold funding.
Whittaker, also a BCPS teacher, said Wright supported the face mask mandate and she was preparing to go back to school next week when she got sick. Fusco and Whittaker know the children are really going to miss her.
“She loved her job,” Whittaker said. “She loved teaching.”