By Richard Sullins |

Days before the Lee County Board of Education again reviews its policy regarding face coverings for the next month, COVID numbers are again taking a turn in the wrong direction.

Two weeks after the Thanksgiving holidays, the virus has started once more to spread across the county, the state, and the nation. On Friday morning, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reported that 95 of the state’s 100 counties, including Lee, had returned to a “high community transmission” status. The CDC looks at two numbers — total new cases and percent positivity — to determine the level of community transmission.

That status is important because it is the determining factor for ending the masking mandate that students, teachers, staff, and visitors in the Lee County Public Schools have been under since August. At its last meeting in November, the school board voted 4-2 to leave the current masking mandate in place until 10 consecutive calendar days of ‘moderate-level’ transmission of the virus have been recorded in the county.

The board meets again on Tuesday, but the transmission level would have to drop two levels to “moderate” for that 10-day waiting period to begin.

Lee County Schools reports that during this week, there have been 83 students quarantined because of the virus, including 20 overnight Thursday. 26 other students have tested positive for COVID. Two staff members were on quarantine status and nine staff also tested positive this past week.

Lee County Health Department Director Heath Cain told The Rant on Friday “the number of positive cases is trending up once more. There were 91 new COVID-19 cases this past week. We have seen a steady uptick since Thanksgiving. It does continue to be the Delta variant at this time.”

The most recent increase in the number of cases began in the county on November 30, just 5 days after Thanksgiving.

The percentage of tests being returned from the laboratories with positive results has more than doubled in the past two weeks, going from 3.13 percent to 7.77 percent. The number of persons tested for COVID-like symptoms has reached 1,215 in the last seven days, an increase of 69.9 percent.

There had been no deaths in the county attributed to COVID from mid-October through the latter part of November, but three persons have died from the virus in the past two weeks.

Since the pandemic began in March of 2020, 9,774 confirmed cases have been reported in Lee County. That count could reach 10,000 before Christmas.

The number of cases had been declining steadily since the summer surge peaked during the Labor Day weekend. The numbers of persons getting the COVID vaccines developed during the Trump administration and distributed by the Biden administration continued to grow as of Friday, NCDHHS reported that 91 percent of all seniors ages 65 and up in Lee County had received at least one shot and 88 percent had been fully vaccinated.

And there’s this – among all adults ages 12 and up in the county, 41,231 persons (79.1 percent) have received at least one dose of the vaccine, while 31,879 (61.1 percent) are fully vaccinated. If another surge of COVID arrives during the winter months, as it now seems that it will, at least three-fourths of all Lee County adults will have some amount of protection and three-fifths will be fully protected.

North Carolina reported its first case of the Omicron variant on Friday. A student at UNC-Charlotte was diagnosed with this highly mutated deviation of the original virus last week. The student was isolated and has now recovered. In an email to students, the university said its own sequencing lab located on the campus identified the variant through a positive test from a student who traveled out-of-state for the Thanksgiving break.

Cain said that the final clinic of the year for adults offered by the Health Department will be on Tuesday, December 13, from 9 to 11 a.m. at the Dennis A. Wicker Civic Center. A separate clinic for children ages 5 to 11 will take place from 2 to 4 p.m. on Friday, December 17.

To register for either clinic, call the Health Department at 919.842.5744 or you can pre-register at