An unvaccinated Estacada Middle School teacher died Saturday in what appears to be the first publicly reported case of an Oregon teacher succumbing to COVID-19.
Samantha Fox, 46, died one week after she tested positive for the coronavirus. Family members said that Fox, a sixth- and seventh-grade language arts teacher at the middle school, was a beloved member of the community who spent more than 20 years teaching in the school district.
Survivors include her mother, husband and two teenage sons.
“You can’t go anywhere in Estacada without someone coming up to talk to her,” said her ex-husband, Roger Cloud.
More than a year into the pandemic, Fox’s death comes as a tragic reminder of the coronavirus’s unpredictable toll. Fox was overweight but otherwise had no underlying medical conditions, said her mother, Mary Beck.
“She took care of everyone. The entire family loved her dearly,” said Beck, crying Tuesday as she described Fox’s loving nature. “Always a big smile and fun to be with.”
But even as she grieves, Beck is placing the blame for her daughter’s death on Fox’s hesitation to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Fox was afraid of shots and didn’t like going to the doctor, Beck said, and subsequently waited too long to decide whether or not to get vaccinated.
“There are 14- and 18-year-old boys without a mother because she wouldn’t take the shot,” Beck said, referring to Fox’s two sons.
Neither the Oregon Department of Education nor the Oregon Health Authority was able to say how many educators, if any, have died from COVID-19. Gov. Kate Brown approved all educators for vaccinations beginning Jan. 25. An active volunteer at North Clackamas School District schools died from COVID-19 in December, according to the Portland Tribune, and a Joseph Charter School bus driver died in September, according to the East Oregonian.
Fox’s last day teaching students inside the middle school was April 27, an Estacada School District spokeswoman said. Fox apparently tested positive for the coronavirus May 1, Beck said.
The school district informed families May 4 that 60 students at the middle school had been asked to quarantine due to four non-related cases of people with COVID-19.
District spokeswoman Maggie Kelly said there has been no evidence of spread of the disease at any of the schools, though cases continue to rise. Seventeen students and staff have now tested positive across the district, up eight from May 4. Almost 11% of the district’s students are currently in quarantine, Kelly said, though many will have completed their isolation period by the end of the week.
None of the students or staff who tested positive did so after contact with Fox, Kelly said, nor was Fox exposed to sick students before she tested positive.
By last Friday, Fox had trouble breathing and went to Kaiser Permanente Sunnyside Medical Center. Staff there eventually sent her home, Beck said.
The next morning, Saturday, Fox woke up barely able to breathe, Beck said. An ambulance took her to a hospital, where she died.
Fox loved to fish – smallmouth bass in the Umpqua River and steelhead and trout in the Santiam – and liked to take long motorcycle trips on her Harley Davidson Night Train. Last summer, Beck and Fox both rode motorcycles to Baker City and Florence. Beck and Fox had yet to decide where to take a trip this summer, Beck said.
Cloud, Fox’s ex-husband, said they met in college, when she was studying to be a teacher. She had wanted to be a teacher since she was a child, Cloud said, and, as she taught over the years, “loved her kids.” Cloud and Fox stayed close after their divorce, he said, and shared custody of their children.
Fox’s death came as a shock, Cloud said, not only because she was so young and healthy, but also because COVID-19 hadn’t really affected anybody close to him before Fox got sick.
“It’s definitely real now,” Cloud said.
Fox was a “student-focused” teacher, the school district spokeswoman said, and her death is affecting multiple generations of students. Fox had a knack for making learning fun, Kelly said, and managed to maintain her enthusiasm into the third decade of her career teaching in Estacada, about 45 minutes southeast of Portland.
The school district has deployed counselors for any staff or students who need them, Kelly said.
Beck said she wanted to speak publicly about her daughter’s death because she doesn’t want any other family to go through the same experience.
“Please,” Beck said, “if you can get the shot, get it.”
— Fedor Zarkhin
503-294-7674; [email protected]