Three educators in Florida’s second-largest school district have died from Covid-19 within two days of each other, teachers’ union officials say.
The deaths come just days before Broward County schools are due to reopen on 18 August.
Florida’s Republican governor has threatened to withhold pay from school leaders who require masks for pupils.
School virus protocols have become the subject of fierce debate as the Delta variant spreads in the US.
Broward Teachers Union President Anna Fusco initially said four educators had died, but the union clarified later on Friday that only two were teachers, a third was a teaching assistant and a fourth was a graduate. The union said they had died from Covid-19 related complications.
They also said three of them were unvaccinated. None had been inside a school building recently.
The four were said to have died between Tuesday and Wednesday in Broward County – which is just north of the Miami-Dade area. Their names were not released.
The news comes as Broward County students prepare to return to classrooms next week. The district is the sixth biggest in the country, with over 272,000 pupils.
The Broward school board this week voted to require students to mask up in schools, defying Governor Ron DeSantis’ order and his threat to withhold the salaries of leaders who do so.
The county is leading the nation in new Covid hospital admissions during the 3 to 9 August period, according to data from the US Department of Health and Human Services. Neighbouring Miami-Dade County is third in the ranking.
Florida and Texas together account for around 40% of the total new hospital admissions nationwide – and more younger people are needing hospital care due to the virus.
However, Florida has only the 26th highest death rate from Covid-19 in the US, with 185 deaths per 100,000 people, according to Statista. This is despite the Sunshine State having one of the most elderly populations in the US.
The highest death rate is in New Jersey, with 300 dead per 100,000 people, followed by New York and Massachusetts.
But Broward County Mayor Steve Geller said on Thursday: “Our numbers are horrible. The number of children cases are horrible and they are also rapidly increasing.”
Showdowns between governors and local school districts over Covid rules have been playing out across the US ahead of the new academic year.
Another Florida superintendent cautioned earlier this week that two employees have died of the virus in the last two weeks, “and school hasn’t even started”.
Federal health officials warned on Thursday that 90% of US counties were seeing high transmission of the Delta variant.
Centers for Disease Control Director Rochelle Walensky reported the US saw about 113,000 new cases per day in the last week.