PHOENIX — The day before arguably the most contentious and divisive presidential election in modern-day history, new COVID-19 cases continue to surge across Arizona.
In just one month, the state's weekly average of known cases exploded, with a 220% increase since last month.
So far, the virus has claimed the lives of nearly 6,000 Arizonans since the start of the pandemic.
That list includes Tolleson Union High School English teacher and assistant baseball coach Ash Freiderich.
“It was shocking. It was devastating. It was permanent,” said Ash's mother Catherine Freiderich.
On Saturday night, Catherine received a call from her daughter-in-law LeAnne that Ash lost his battle with the virus.
“He was living his passion. Teaching sophomore English. Teaching the yearbook and having the kids put it together and then also coaching baseball,” said Catherine.
The virus hit Ash hard and fast. Catherine said her son tested negative twice but was still symptomatic.
Ash worked as a journalist before getting his masters in education. He began teaching at Tolleson Unified High School four years ago.
“Many of his students love him and I feel it’s hard for them to accept that he’s not there anymore,” said Catherine.
His mother said he was passionate about inspiring kids to strive for their dreams.
“Ash was the guy that was always the one to put his arm around somebody. If a kid had a bad game, he was the one to say, 'It’s OK. We’re gonna get better,'” said Wolverine head baseball coach Scott Richardson.
Over the weekend, Richardson tweeted out to baseball players and the Wolverine community that coach Ash was gone.
The team hasn’t seen each other since last March, and students and players are currently learning virtually through December.
COVID-19 is once again surging across the Valley.
“The storm is here. We are in it and it will only get worse until we act now,” said University of Arizona College of Medicine Public Health Director Dr. Shad Marvasti.
Arizona has seen increases in new cases, ICU and inpatient beds and ventilators usage.
On the eve of the election, Catherine feels the need to need to speak out about President Donald Trump’s handling of the virus.
“The fact that he said this isn’t a problem. He had no right to do that. He did not take the leadership position to help the people of the United States.”
Now as the Wolverine community mourns she hope’s Ash’s legacy lives on in his students and players.
“Ash had the ability to give others the feeling that anything is possible and to live your dream.
Remembering some of the lives lost to COVID-19 this year:
Tolleson Union High School District Superintendent Nora Gutierrez issued a statement to students and parents that read, in part:
"Death can be difficult for us to understand, especially when it is sudden. Many of us may be confronted with a variety of emotions, which might include shock, sadness, and confusion. I want to assure you that we, the entire TUHSD staff, care about you and the feelings you may be experiencing.
"Social workers and counselors will be available to receive your phone calls and set up a virtual TEAMS meeting with you to help you deal with any feelings you may be having. They will also be available at any time during the day to help if you feel a more urgent need to talk with someone. We want to encourage those students who may be particularly upset, perhaps even struggling with a death in their family or of a friend, or just in need of additional support, to reach out. We are here for you. We are family!
"At this time if you would like to send a card or write a letter to the family, please send that to the school, or email one of the team members listed on the next page. Sharing one of your favorite memories of Mr. Friederich could be a way to support his family in this time of grieving. Unfortunately at this time students cannot congregate at the school.
"Tolleson Union High School District will continue to focus on keeping everyone as safe and healthy as possible. COVID-19 is in our community and does not discriminate. It is important that we all continue to follow the health and safety protocols to keep ourselves and our families, friends, teachers and TUHSD staff safe. We have been diligently following the health and safety protocols since March; let’s not stop now. I want you all to know that we are #TollesonStrong and that together we will get through this."