Beloved Mulberry High School employee dies from COVID-19 

Maria Hernandez, 55, was known as the "Mulberry Momma Bear." It is a fitting title. She had six children and was a dedicated staff member at Mulberry High School, working in the guidance office.  She is described as passionate, often going out of her way to see the students succeed. 

"She supported them in any way she could," said her daughter, Jamie Waring. 

Hernandez recently passed away after a three-week battle with COVID-19. She's believed to be the first person in the Polk County School District to die from the virus. 

Her family says she may have gotten it at a school wrestling tournament in mid-December. It has been linked to dozens of cases and led the district to temporarily suspend all athletics programs.

COVID UPDATES: Download the free FOX 13 News app for ongoing coronavirus coverage and live updates

"This whole community loves her," her son, Ronald Helmick Jr., said. "Her smile, her smile gets me every time." 

An online fundraiser has been set up to help deal with family and funeral costs. 

"The biggest thing is we all need to be safe," Waring said. "It doesn’t really hit home for you until you experience yourself, and I just think that don’t let it get to that point," she told FOX 13. 

If you feel sick:

The Florida Department of Health has opened a COVID-19 Call Center at 1-866-779-6121. Agents will answer questions around the clock. Questions may also be emailed to Email responses will be sent during call center hours.

LINK: Florida's COVID-19 website

CORONAVIRUS IN FLORIDA: What you need to know


Map of known COVID-19 cases:

MOBILE APP USERS: Click here for map