Less than two weeks after returning to her classroom, a 28-year-old 3rd grade teacher died of COVID-19 on Monday, September 7, according to officials from the Richland Two School District in Richland County, South Carolina. Demetria "Demi" Bannister had been diagnosed with COVID-19 just a few days earlier, on Friday, September 4.
"With heavy hearts, administrators share this information with permission from Ms. Bannister's parents who wish to remind others about the seriousness of this disease caused by the coronavirus," Richland Two School District spokeswoman Libby Roof said in a news release issued Wednesday, as reported by The State.
This year marked Bannister's fifth year teaching at Windsor Elementary School in Columbia, according to the Associated Press. Before beginning the school year by teaching remotely in early September, district officials said Bannister had attended a week of on-campus teacher workdays beginning Aug. 28, the news outlet reported. The district has organized a deep clean of the school and is currently in the process of carrying out contact tracing to identify anyone who may have had close contact with Bannister. It remains unclear where or how Bannister contracted the virus.
On Wednesday, Richland Two Superintendent Dr. Baron R. Davis asked students, parents, teachers, and staff at the school district to honor Bannister's memory by doing whatever possible to slow the spread of the virus that had killed her.
"Today has been a difficult day for us all," Davis wrote in a statement shared over Twitter. "To honor Ms. Bannister’s memory I ask the Richland Two family to join me in reaffirming our commitment to doing all we can to provide premier learning experiences for all students in the safest environment possible and doing our part to slow the spread of COVID-19."
Davis went on to note that Bannister's legacy would live on in the "lives of the students she taught in her five years as a dedicated educator."
In honor of Bannister, Windsor Elementary shared a video of the third grade teacher singing during field day in 2019 on their Facebook page. According to The State, Bannister led the elementary school's student choir and oversaw a student club for aspiring singers.
News of Bannister's passing comes as South Carolina's Department of Health and Environmental Control reports two consecutive days of dropping COVID-19 case numbers. As reported by WSCS, a total of 250 new confirmed cases reported Wednesday brought the state's overall tally of confirmed COVID-19 cases to 124,097 with 142 probable deaths.