It's been nearly a year since Luke Byrd's mom, Kim Byrd, passed away from COVID-19.
"We're still hurting, I don't think we'll ever stop hurting," he said.
Kim was a beloved Gila County teacher of more than 30 years in the Hayden-Winkelman Unified School District. She was team-teaching an online summer school course with two other instructors when all three tested positive. The other two teachers eventually recovered.
"We're trying to get back to something that's normal," said Byrd.
However, that goal is becoming increasingly difficult as the number of COVID-19 cases in the classroom continues to rise.
"It felt like everything was happening all over again," he said. "We just finished our second week in and already two classes have been quarantined."
Byrd is a paraprofessional at Leonor Hambly K-8, also in the Hayden-Winkelman District. His fourth-grade class started quarantine last week.
"It was hard when the third graders went out too. That class, the third-grade class, was my mother's last class," said Byrd
The district requires masks and schools are taking as many precautions as they can. About 50 miles away, the San Carlos Unified District last week closed their schools through September 2, after several staff and students tested positive.
"These are real things that we worry about every day," said Byrd.
As the heightened tensions surrounding face masks and the vaccine continue ramping up, Byrd says he hopes people on both sides of the debate can find some middle ground.
"It feels like there's no back up," he said. "We get it, you have concerns, but please understand that we are also very concerned as well."