By Richard Sullins |

Editor’s note: This story was first published in the printed edition of The Rant Monthly on Oct. 1, 2021.

COVID-19 cut a brutal swath through Lee County during the first half of September, and even though it appears the number of positive cases has started to show a slight decline as October begins, what happens next could be determined by the extent to which county residents practice the good health strategies proven to slow the spread of the virus as a more familiar health threat prepares to make its annual return.

The percentage of COVID tests that were returned as positive had dropped to a very low three percent as the summer began in June. By the time fall arrived in mid-September just three months later, more than 13 percent of the tests were being received as positive.

But by the end of September just two weeks later, the percentage of positive tests had dropped by two percentage points, down to 11 percent, giving some reason to hope that the worst of the surge in cases was over.

Lee County Health Department Director Heath Cain told The Rant “the positive cases seem to be trending down at this point, but we continue to monitor the data daily.”

A look at the data lends some credence to that theory. The COVID-19 vaccines have been proven to help prevent the spread and the severity of infections.

Vaccination rates in Lee County, which had been lagging since the vaccines first became available in December 2020, began to accelerate in September as the number of cases and the death count both increased. Cain told The Rant “we are seeing an uptick in first doses at our Thursday and Friday afternoon clinics.”

The number of persons having received at least one shot by September 26 was 34,103, or 65.4 percent of people ages 12 and up, representing 3,382 more persons than at the end of August. The number who had been fully vaccinated by that date was 28,720 or 55.1 percent of that same age grouping, an increase since August of 1,027 persons.

In Lee County, the number of persons having tested positive for the virus in September was 924 cases per 100,000 residents, compared to an even 1,000 cases at the end of August per 100,000 residents, representing a decline of over 7 percent.

Yet, there are other indicators that suggest that the surge remains unabated within the county. At the end of July, 84 persons had died from COVID-19 in Lee County since the pandemic began in March of 2020. By the end of September, another 13 had lost their lives to the virus, bringing the total for the 18-month period to 97 and meaning that 13.4 percent of those deaths died in just the last two months.

The pandemic continues to have its greatest impact within the county among persons between the ages of 25 to 49 and disproportionately among females.

During the month of September, 37 percent of all cases were reported within those age groups. The number of cases among females (58 percent) outpaced those among males (42 percent) during the month. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that 51 percent of Lee County’s residents are female.

But the greatest impact may soon be among the county’s school-aged children, more than half of whom are too young to be currently eligible to receive the vaccine.

By the end of September, 846 children had been quarantined because they had come into contact with someone in their family or close circle of friends who had tested positive for the virus.

According to the Lee County Schools COVID-19 Dashboard, 398 students had tested positive for the virus by September 24 and were sent home, in addition to 40 members of the district’s staff. The dashboard also indicated that the high schools had the largest number of positive cases.

Richard Sullins covers local government for The Rant.