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Three more Marion County public school employees die of COVID-19

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Marion County Public Schools has now lost seven employees to COVID-19 since late July.

The Ocala Star-Banner reports that three more names have been added to the list of employees dead from COVID-19.

They are Virginia Perry and Rhonda Brasher Lehman, lunchroom workers at Stanton-Weirsdale Elementary, and videographer Joel Hartley.

School Board member Eric Cummings, who is also the pastor at New Zion Missionary Baptist Church in Ocala, says the board must do more to protect employees. He is pushing for a temporary mask mandate -- without the opt-out currently used by 20% of students.

For him, it's personal.

"I'm not saying that the other board members don’t take it personal," Cummings said. "But I think I'm seeing it a little bit more up close than they may be seeing it, because it's right in my face. I'm the one that's at the funerals. I'm the one that's, you know, praying for these folks in the morning. I'm the one that's trying to send encouraging words."

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Marion County Public Schools had 627 students and 106 staff members test positive for the coronavirus last week. And 3,308 students were newly quarantined.

The district also has a worsening shortage of bus drivers -- which has impacted about 15 percent of routes -- and prompted a call to middle and high school parents Monday night.

"Because of ongoing shortage of drivers, middle and high school bus routes this week will likely be much later than usual," the recording said. "We know this is a major inconvenience. So if you are able, you might consider taking your child to and from school until the shortage lets up."

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District spokesman Kevin Christian says the situation is unprecedented. He's never had to record a call like that before.

Joe Byrnes came to WMFE/WMFV from the Ocala Star-Banner and The Gainesville Sun, where he worked as a reporter and editor for several years. Joe graduated from Loyola University in New Orleans and turned to journalism after teaching. He enjoys freshwater fishing and family gatherings.