Photograph: Justin Lane/EPA

A 28-year-old elementary school teacher in Columbia, South Carolina, died this week from complications due to Covid-19, authorities have said.

Demetria “Demi” Bannister, who taught third grade at Windsor elementary school, died on Monday.

Related: ‘I’m extremely nervous’: US grapples with in-person or virtual classes

“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,” Libby Roof, a spokeswoman for Richland county school district two, said in a statement to the Guardian.

The last time Bannister went to Windsor Elementary was on 28 August. This date marked the last workday for instructors before school started. She started the school year teaching her students virtually, from home.

School district officials said they found out that Bannister had tested positive for Covid-19 on 4 September. They subsequently conducted contact tracing and notification, the State newspaper reported. It is unclear where Bannister contracted Covid-19.

The school district is all virtual so there was no close contact with students, Roof said. Following contact tracing, three employees were put in quarantine. Roof said she did not have information on their health conditions “as that is private medical information”.

In addition to her teaching duties, Bannister was a leader of the student choir and organized a club for aspiring singers, the newspaper said. Comments on a memorial web page described Bannister as kind and happy.

“Ms Bannister was my teacher and she was my favorite teacher. I wish I was still at elementary school to say my goodbyes. My heart goes out to the family. Her grandmother is all I have left of her and Ms Bannister,” one commenter said.

Another wrote: “Demi and I were sorority sisters. We became friends years ago at a sorority convention where (of course) she used her incredible Disney princess voice to bring people together.” A parent of Bannister’s former elementary school classmates remarked: “She was always such a sweet and happy girl.”

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Bannister’s death comes as the nation’s parents and educators continue to struggle with safety concerns over school reopenings. The Washington Post reported that at least five other teachers have died from Covid-19 since August. Although it is not known whether any of them contracted coronavirus at school, their deaths have intensified concerns about whether campus environments will prompt outbreaks.

In New York City, which has the largest US public school district, one teacher and one school employee have tested positive 11 days before in-person classes resume, according to NBC New York.

While efforts to stave off outbreaks are in place, such as masks and testing, Mayor Bill de Blasio reportedly commented that “of course” there would be coronavirus clusters when classes begin. Some educators fear that preventive efforts will not be enough, with one commenting to Gothamist that the schools department “is using us as science experiments”.

Meanwhile, the issue of school reopening continues to be heavily politicized across the US.

The president and the education secretary, Betsy DeVos, previously told public school districts that federal money would be withheld if they did not fully reopen for the 2020-21 school year.

Neither Trump nor DeVos has unilateral control over federal school funding. They also lack the power to force schools to open at a certain time or particular way, the Washington Post reported.

Trump continues to dangle money in the discussion of school reopening, however, saying in a tweet on Thursday: “Democrats, OPEN THE SCHOOLS ( SAFELY), NOW! When schools are closed, let the money follow the child (FAMILY). Why should schools be paid when they are closed? They shouldn’t!”



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