State health officials reported 17 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday – the lowest daily total in a week – but offered few additional details about an outbreak associated with a wedding this month in Millinocket.

“We do not know whether the outbreak originated at the Big Moose Inn or if there were additional sites of transmission during the gathering,” Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Nirav Shah said. “The (wedding) reception was a connecting point, but there may have been other sources of transmission. This is another reminder that COVID-19 exists everywhere in Maine and can spread very quickly when large groups of people gather.”

Shah also said investigators have not yet determined whether guests were wearing face masks or whether they were sufficiently socially distanced at the Aug. 7 event.

“When we receive reports of what may have happened, we like to make sure we verify them with primary sources,” he said.

So far, the CDC has tracked 24 positive COVID-19 cases to the wedding – 18 among guests and six among people who came in close contact with a guest. That number is expected to increase, Shah said, and already the Millinocket Regional Hospital has put the number at 28.

No one from the Big Moose Inn answered the phone Tuesday and a manager did not respond to a message left Monday. Maine Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said officials are looking into whether the venue was in violation of the state’s executive order, which limits indoor gatherings to 50 people. The CDC has said approximately 65 people attended the wedding.

The number of new cases statewide Tuesday was 17, the lowest daily total since Aug. 11.

Maine has now tracked 4,213 confirmed and probable cases since the pandemic reached the state in March. Of those, 3,469 people have recovered and 127 have died, bringing the active number of cases to 437, which is five more than Monday. Less than a week ago, on Aug. 12, the seven-day average for new cases was 13.1 – the lowest since late March. That average has increased slightly over the last few days but remains low, especially compared to other states.

Pedestrians walk along a crowded Commercial Street in Portland on Saturday. Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer

Hospitalizations in Maine have remained low since peaking in late May. As of Tuesday, there were just 10 people hospitalized, five in intensive care. To put that in perspective, Shah said, Maine has seen less than one person per 100,000 people hospitalized during the pandemic. The national average for hospitalizations is 15 per 100,000 people.

Although there haven’t been many deaths in Maine overall relative to other states, that number is dropping as well. There have been just 10 COVID-19 related deaths in Maine over the last 30 days.

Shah said Maine continues to test a broad swath of individuals and its rate of positivity remains low. The seven-day average is 0.75 percent, compared to the national rate of about 7 percent.

While the CDC still has a lot of work to do to investigate the outbreak in Millinocket, Shah announced the closure of an outbreak at the Walmart in Presque Isle. Only three cases were reported there, a sign that the virus didn’t spread significantly.

Three outbreaks at blueberry processors in Hancock County have been kept in check, too, thanks to widespread testing and quarantining of individuals.

Shah did say that, so far, the people associated with the wedding at the Big Moose Inn who tested positive were all Maine residents. None of the positive cases are staff members of the facility, although that could change.

It’s too early to tell whether Millinocket and surrounding communities, including the popular Baxter State Park, could see community spread. There have been some local closures designed to prevent that. Millinocket Town Hall closed Monday and the Millinocket District Court announced Tuesday that it was closing temporarily as well out of an abundance of caution.

Asked whether he worried that Mainers have become complacent about guidelines such as masks and distancing, Shah said he understand people “have lives to live.”

“But keep in mind that COVID-19 is swirling all around us,” he said. “It’s possible given what we’ve seen in other states … that there could be a significant increase here in Maine.”

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