Rich Zaker stayed at the Big Moose Inn in Millinocket three times over four weeks this summer while he was helping a family member complete work on a camp nearby. His last stay was on Aug. 6-7, the same days the venue hosted a wedding that is now the source of one of Maine’s largest COVID-19 outbreaks.

Zaker, a high school teacher who lives in Hudson, New Hampshire, said he observed wedding reception guests when he returned to the inn on the evening of Aug. 7 and while he ate dinner at the bar and grill located inside the inn.

“They were everywhere. It was very crowded. Not much social distancing,” he said in a phone interview Tuesday. “I saw maybe one or two people wearing a mask but that was it.”

Zaker said the lax atmosphere surprised him, but he didn’t think much of it until a week and a half later, when he saw a news story about an outbreak at the inn.

“It seems like they were pretty irresponsible,” he said. “They played fast and loose with a lot of people’s safety.”

As of Tuesday, the outbreak that started with guests at the wedding reception had spread to 60 people and claimed the life of a woman who didn’t attend the wedding but who had close contact with someone who did. Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said Tuesday that the Millinocket wedding outbreak has now been linked to an outbreak of six cases at Maplecrest Rehabilitation & Living Center in Madison – four residents and two staff members. A guest who attended the wedding infected a parent, Shah said, who then had close contact with the guest’s sibling, who works at Maplecrest. The wedding also is tied to an outbreak of 18 additional cases among inmates and staff at the York County Jail. One of the jail staff attended the wedding, Shah said.

Shah confirmed that the CDC’s investigation revealed minimal mask compliance among wedding guests. The CDC issued an Imminent Health Hazard citation to the Big Moose Inn for violating the state’s guidelines on indoor gathering during the pandemic. The citation, obtained Tuesday by the Press Herald, listed three areas of noncompliance: failure to implement measures to maintain 6-foot distancing, exceeding the maximum number of people allowed for an indoor gathering and failure to ask customers for contact information in the event of an outbreak.

The state is still looking into whether to issue a citation to the Tri-Town Baptist Church in Millinocket, which hosted the wedding ceremony.

It’s not a given that Zaker or other guests would be contacted by the CDC. Generally speaking, contact tracing is done on anyone who spent at least 15 minutes with an individual from 6 feet or less away who tested positive. Those people are asked to quarantine for 14 days.

Zaker said he’s more upset that no one from the Big Moose Inn has called him to tell him about the outbreak. He said he left his contact information and was told that if there were an outbreak, all guests would be called, a practice that is in line with the CDC’s guidance.

“My wife and I didn’t get sick, we’re fortunate,” he said. “But what about all these other people who got sick because (the inn’s managers) were irresponsible and marginalized the risk involved?”

A message left with the Big Moose Inn was not returned Tuesday, the latest of numerous messages that have gone unreturned since last week. No one from the business has made any public comment since the outbreak was announced.

The business is owned by Laurie Cormier, according to a corporate filing with the Maine Secretary of State’s Office. It was previously owned by Cormier’s parents, Robert and Fredericka Boynton, beginning in 1974, according to an obituary of Robert Boynton from 2012. The restaurant at the inn, where Zaker said the wedding reception was mostly held, is named Fredericka’s.

“I’m sure they’re very nice people,” Zaker said of the inn’s owners and employees. “I don’t despise them or anything. I just hope they learn a lesson. I just feel cheated in a way that they didn’t call. As guests, I think we were owed something.”


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