Friends, family say goodbye to Clay County school bus driver who died after contracting COVID-19

CLAY COUNTY, Fla. – On Friday, the community said goodbye to a Clay County school bus driver who died of COVID-19 complications.

Gail Brusseau planned to retire with her husband in December, but weeks into the school year she tested positive for coronavirus and put on life-support in the hospital.

Friends, family and co-workers attended her funeral in Middleburg on Friday night to offer condolences.

Gail’s bus was pulled this week from the fleet. Instead, it’s parked in front of the bus lot adorned with flowers in her honor.

Her family, while appreciative, believes her death was senseless.

“The woman who is laying in there shouldn’t be,” her husband Bill Brusseau said at Friday’s service. “I am going to miss her with all of my heart. There is not a day that is going to go by that I will not think about her. I would not wish this on anybody.”

Several bus drivers came to the service to pay their respects. Many of them say they still can’t believe this has happened.

Brusseau, 66, spent 26 years driving children to school in Clay County. In recent years, she carried students with special needs to class and back home five days a week.

Brusseau spent an even longer time -- 41 years -- by her husband Bill’s side. When the pandemic hit, Brusseau had to decide whether to keep her job.

Bill begged her to retire.

“She said, ‘No, I want to go one more year,’” her husband told News4Jax. “She said, ‘If you’re going to go one more year, I am going to go one more year.’"

Her husband said that Brusseau came home one day and changed her mind, announcing she would retire in December. But a few weeks into the school year, she became ill.

“About the third week of school, she started feeling sick. So, we both went and got tested,” her husband said. “She tested positive. I tested negative. We went to our family doctor right away. Our family doctor did a test and that one was positive and he strongly urged her to be taken to the hospital and I took her to Orange Park (Medical).”

There, Brusseau started out FaceTiming with her husband every day with the help of her nurses. The calls turned to text messages. Then, Brusseau’s husband got a call from the hospital saying she needed to go to an intensive care unit.

“She had to be sedated and she couldn’t speak, but she could hear. So what the nurses would do is put the phone up to her ear. I would talk to her. I would sing to her. My kids went every day. I went every day and even though she was in a semi-comatose -- she could hear us and that was frightening to me,” Brusseau’s husband said. “Because I had never seen her like that.”

Bill Brusseau said she was in an ICU for 31 days. She was then put on life support.

“Her wishes were not to live on life support," he said.

Gail Brusseau passed away on Oct. 9.

The Clay County School District said it has been following procedures and protocols to clean the bus after each route at the end of the day and has required students wear masks and use assigned seating, but Bill Brusseau believes the rules haven’t been enforced strictly.

“She was taken from me because some people don’t seem to understand that this COVID thing can hit anybody. We are all in this together, and we are all in this together not just to protect ourselves, but to protect each other. That didn’t happen here and that’s how she got it,” said Bill Brusseau.

Clay Schools said in a statement: “We are deeply saddened by the passing of our employee, Gail Brusseau. We want to extend our sincere condolences to her family and friends. Gail was dedicated to Clay County District Schools working as a bus driver for more than 20 years. We are thankful for her service and will honor her legacy.”

When asked how many drivers had been quarantined or tested positive for COVID-19, the school district pointed to the Florida Department of Health numbers that do not show any staff at the Department of Transportation testing positive.

The Clay County schools website shows there are currently four staff members who tested positive with COVID-19 and another 25 district-wide staff on COVID-19 or quarantine leave.

The school said the data “is not categorized by profession," and added that since re-opening schools “there has been continual coaching and education around why the protocols are in place and the expectation is that all guidelines are followed from all students and staff.”

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