An outbreak of coronavirus cases at a Maine wedding have been linked to more infections in other parts of the state, including inside a nursing home and county jail, health officials confirmed Tuesday.
Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC), said during a press conference Tuesday that officials had identified a link between the August 7 wedding reception at the Big Moose Inn in Millinocket, the York County Jail in Alfred and the Maplecrest Rehabilitation Center in Madison.
A staff member at the jail had attended the wedding reception, later testing positive for coronavirus, Shah said. The jail, which is located approximately 230 miles from Millinocket, now has 18 total cases. Of those, nine are jail staff members, seven are inmates and two are other staffers employed by York County.
The rehab center, located about 140 miles from Millinocket, has reported that four residents and two staff members have tested positive so far, Shah said. Those numbers were factored in to the total case count from the wedding reception despite it being treated as a separate outbreak. The numbers stemming from the jail have not been included with the wedding’s case numbers because officials confirmed the epidemiological link just hours before Tuesday’s press conference, Shah said.
Shah likened the multiple outbreaks connected with the wedding to a tube of glitter.
“You open a tube of glitter in the basement, and then two weeks later you’re up in the attic and all you find is glitter there and you have no idea how it got there. And that’s what COVID-19 is like,” he said. “You open up some glitter in Millinocket, and the next thing you know you’re finding traces of it at a jail complex in York County. It’s just emblematic of how quickly and silently and efficiently it can spread.”
As of Tuesday, 60 coronavirus cases have been linked to the wedding reception, not including those discovered at the York County Jail. In a case breakdown provided during the press conference, Shah said that 22 of the 60 people had attended the event, 14 had close contact with an attendee and 24 were sickened from one of the secondary cases.
Two people have been hospitalized and one person, who did not attend the event, has died from the virus, Shah said. Of those 60 cases associated with the wedding, 83 percent of patients have shown symptoms.
Health officials are now primarily focused on limiting further circles of transmission that are emanating from the wedding, Shah said. He added that the Maine CDC is still looking into whether a citation will be issued to the couple who hosted the wedding, as the event remains under investigation to determine if they violated any of the governor’s executive orders.
Shah did reveal that many of those who attended the wedding reception at the Big Moose Inn did not wear face coverings, which are required in Maine.
“From case interviews done by our epidemiologists of individuals who attended the reception, we understand that mask wearing was not commonplace or widespread. That squares with what we’ve seen as an epidemiological matter, which is a significant number of cases that arose out of those events,” he said. “We’re not 100 percent sure as to the depth of the information that the Big Moose Inn provided attendees. We do know that there was signage, but whether there was more or whether it was particularized to individual guests, I’m not sure right now.”
The wedding took place August 7 at Tri Town Baptist Church in East Millinocket. After the ceremony, around 65 guests attended the wedding reception at the Big Moose Inn, located on Millinocket Lake, despite coronavirus guidelines in the state which limit indoor gatherings to 50 people.
The Maine CDC announced 10 days later it had opened an investigation into the outbreak, working to further trace and identify the spread. The state health agency said in a press release that cases had been identified in patients ranging from 4 to 98 years old.
“Social gatherings such as weddings and receptions pose an elevated risk for virus transmission,” according to the press release emailed to Newsweek. “The possibility of COVID-19 transmission increases as the number of attendees increases, even when some attendees are indoors and others are outdoors. This is because outdoor attendees may reasonably be expected to come indoors and interact with others, increasing the possibility of COVID-19 transmission.”
As of August 25, the state reported a total of 4,368 coronavirus cases and 131 deaths. Newsweek contacted the Maine CDC for further comment, but did not hear back in time for publication.
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