CHATHAM CHAT | Heath Cain, Lee County’s Health Director

What is Lee County doing to combat COVID-19? Health Director Heath Cain gives insight

Lee is Chatham’s only neighboring county with ‘substantial’ community spread. So what’s the county doing to contain COVID?


While COVID-19 cases in Chatham County are on the rise — case counts have doubled in the last week, and are at a level three times what we saw two weeks ago — the situation is even more dire in neighboring Lee County. Lee’s total case rate is 57% higher than Chatham’s, according to N.C.’s Dept. of Health and Human Services. Lee has fewer deaths (83, compared to Chatham’s 89) but a slightly higher death rate, and is one of just a handful of states with “substantial” community spread (the second highest level, behind “critical”).

The News + Record reached out to Lee County Health Department Director Heath Cain to get an update. Lee County announced last week that with the recent rise of cases in there, the department would begin providing COVID-19 testing for individuals at the department’s clinic this week, located at 112 Hillcrest Dr., from 1-4 p.m. Mondays and 9 a.m. to noon Wednesdays. Lee County residents can register online here or by calling 919- 842-5744 to make a testing appointment.

“With the number of COVID-19 positive cases increasing locally, we want the community to have access to this important tool so they will be aware and mitigate the spread of the virus,” Cain said. “We are here to improve the health of our community and testing will aid in helping us achieve that goal.”

Cain emphasized the 3 W’s, washing your hands, waiting six feet apart and wearing your mask as means to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

Here’s what else Cain had to say:

CN+R: Lee County is one of a handful of counties in N.C. with “substantial” spread. What’s been the biggest challenge for you and your department in this fight against COVID-19?

CAIN: I would say the greatest challenge is making sure our community is aware that this virus is highly transmissible and whether you are symptomatic or asymptomatic, you have the means to spread this virus anywhere you go and/or contract it while you are out and about. Following the 3 W’s would help tremendously in our fight against COVID-19. Some choose to be vaccinated while others have not and we understand that. But we all must consider family, friends and coworkers as we work to mitigate this virus.

How has the CDC’s shifting advice complicated your work? Have you had to adjust anything within your department, or in your collaboration with local hospitals and physicians’ offices?

The guidance has been a challenge but we have modified our responses accordingly and shared all information we are receiving with the local hospital and the physician’s offices. 

How significant a problem are breakthrough infections in the COVID discussion? How concerned should we be about them? 

Around 10-15% of our positive confirmed COVID-19 cases are breakthrough cases. While that number is low, I do not feel it is accurate due to the number of individuals who are vaccinated and are not being tested. The best way to know for sure is to be tested and there are many locations in the county where testing can be provided at no cost. Vaccinated individuals can spread the virus just as easily as the non-vaccinated. While their symptoms are not as severe as the non-vaccinated, they still need to follow the 3 W’s which were previously mentioned to protect themselves and others around them. 

There’s a lot of grim news about the Delta variant…anything you want say about Delta? 

It is highly transmissible and according to the State Lab, most of the positive cases we are seeing now as a state is the Delta variant. While the vaccine remains highly effective against the Delta variant, it can still affect the vaccinated, but with milder symptoms. The symptoms we are seeing primarily are loss of taste and/or smell and sinus issues, but there are other symptoms as well.

We’re all looking for silver linings…what good, positive news can you tell us? 

The percent vaccinated in Lee County continues to rise. We have had an uptick in demand concerning the community’s interest in being vaccinated. With that said, the more who are vaccinated, the safer and healthier our community will be. 

The CDC now says counties with “high” or “substantial” virus transmission should mask up indoors, regardless of vaccination status. Do you agree or disagree? 

That decision will be left up to the Lee County Board of Commissioners and our Board of Education. I want to see us do everything we can as a county to protect ourselves and each other

The CDC has struggled with its messaging; now it’s become clear the CDC is concerned that too many people are convinced that vaccines don’t work. The unvaccinated will say that they’re told to follow the science, then suggest the science says masks/vaccines can’t totally protect you — because the vaccinated can spread COVID. And that the antibodies, if they get COVID, will protect them. Anything you want to add in response to this? 

Vaccines mutate and the more it spreads the greater the chance for mutation. With the original virus, testing was done and the science showed greater than 90% efficacy against the original strain. With the variant, the science is evolving and while it does show us that breakthrough cases are occurring, the affected cases are not as sick as the non-vaccinated so it continues to provide some protection. Concerning the masks, it is a two-way street. Some look at the masks as it isn’t going to prevent COVID-19 while others see mask wearing as a method of protecting others as well. The wearing of a mask protects us all and (is) part of the 3 W’s.

Any advice about getting tested?

If you have any symptoms of COVID-19, it would be the best thing to do to protect yourself, family, friendsand coworkers. If you are positive, you need to follow the guidance we have been sharing with all confirmed positive cases.

When should a vaccinated person wear a mask? Is it safe for vaccinated people to go to restaurants, museums, the movies, a wedding or other large gatherings? Is it safe for the unvaccinated to do same?

Again, I would follow the CDC’s recommendations concerning any of these type businesses or events. 


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