Lee County government reported an unprecedented five COVID deaths on Wednesday, bringing the total number of residents who have died to 44.

Thirteen of the county’s 44 COVID deaths – or just shy of 30 percent – have occurred since the start of December.

“We ask the community to join us in offering our sincere condolences to the family and friends of the five individuals who have passed away from COVID-19 that we reported today,” said Lee County Health Director Heath Cain. “We continue to see troubling COVID-19 trends in Lee County and are worried about the impacts of the virus on our community. We know people tend to gather with family and friends over the holiday season but we are strongly suggesting that people avoid in-person gatherings and keep celebrations to those within your immediate household. Please continue to follow the advice and guidance of health care professionals and if you are feeling sick, please stay home and away from others.”

Three of the deaths occurred at Central Carolina Hospital, according to the county. CCH reported Wednesday that another eight individuals are currently hospitalized with COVID-19.

No further information about the patients was released in accordance with health privacy regulations.

The Lee County Health Department has begun administering the COVID-19 vaccine locally, following the phased vaccine rollout plan determined by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services. For more information, visit covid19.ncdhhs.gov/vaccines.