Texas Teacher Who Went Viral in 2018 with Photos of Students Hugging Each Other Dies of COVID-19

A Texas teacher who went viral after sharing photos of her young students hugging one another has died two months after contracting the novel coronavirus.

Zelene Blancas died on Monday after being hospitalized for nine weeks, according to ABC News, which confirmed its report with officials from her workplace, Dr. Sue A. Shook Elementary School in El Paso.

According to a GoFundMe page set up by her family to help pay for Blancas' medical expenses, the 35-year-old teacher was in a hospital ICU unit for more than two months before her death.

"Zelene Blancas is our beloved daughter, sister, and aunt and she is also a dedicated teacher with 10 years of experience," the page reads. "Unfortunately, and despite taking all precautions possible, Zelene tested positive for COVID 19 on October 20th and had to be hospitalized on October 24th and has been in ICU since then. Zelene’s illness and critical condition brings a lot of sadness and anxiety to all who are blessed to know and care about her."

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Her former colleagues described Blancas as kind and loving.

"She always made an effort to share kindness, whether it was with a message or a note or just reaching out to her colleagues," school Principal Cristina Sanchez-Chavira said to ABC News. "Just a very, very loving person."

As Sanchez-Chavira explained to ABC, Sue Shook Elementary has been remote since March. Still, Blancas worked to make her students feel welcome, delivering care packages of masks, candy and school supplies to each of her students.

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In 2018, a video posted by Blancas went viral after the teacher posted it on Twitter.

In the video, her students can be seen selecting from a Good Morning or Goodbye menu, from which they could choose to give a fellow student a hug, handshake, high five or fist bump.

"What a nice way to end our week!!" Blancas captioned the video.

The video has since been viewed more than 22 million times.


Currently spiking in places throughout the country, the COVID-19 pandemic has hit El Paso particularly hard.

According to local outlet KFOX14, El Paso reported its first positive case of the virus on March 13. By June 13, it had reported its 100th death from COVID-19 and the situation became even more dire in the fall, with the El Paso Convention Center being converted into an alternate care site to expand hospital capacity in October.

More than 20 million cases of the coronavirus have been reported in the U.S. since last January. More than 347,000 deaths have been attributed to the virus in America as of Friday, according to a New York Times tracker.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments. PEOPLE has partnered with GoFundMe to raise money for the COVID-19 Relief Fund, a GoFundMe.org fundraiser to support everything from frontline responders to families in need, as well as organizations helping communities. For more information or to donate, click here.

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