A wedding reception in Millinocket that so far has led to 60 cases of COVID-19, including one death, is now also linked to two more outbreaks, at the York County Jail in Alfred and at a nursing home in Madison.

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said cases from the Aug. 7 wedding reception at the Big Moose Inn in Millinocket show how quickly and how far the virus can spread.

“COVID-19 can be the uninvited guest at every single wedding, party or event in Maine,” Shah said. “These recent examples show how aggressive and how opportunistic this virus is and how quickly it can move from one community to another.”

The Madison nursing home is roughly 110 miles from the Millinocket inn and the York County jail is about another 125 miles away.

Gov. Janet Mills described the spread of the virus from the wedding reception as a spark from a campfire that ignites a dry forest.

“Sixty people are now associated with that one outbreak, and the impacts are widespread,” Mills said. One person who did not attend the reception but is a close contact of an attendee has died of COVID-19, the Maine CDC has confirmed.

 

Thirty-eight of the 60 cases were in people who did not attend the reception but were infected by someone who went to the wedding, including six cases at the Maplecrest Rehabilitation & Living Center in Madison. Twenty-two cases are from people who attended the reception.

Shah said a staff member at Maplecrest became infected from someone who was a close contact of a wedding attendee, causing the outbreak at the nursing home.

The York County Jail’s numbers are not yet reflected in the 60 cases, but Shah said a jail employee attended the Millinocket wedding reception. There are now 18 cases at the York County Jail, although it’s not clear yet how many can be traced to Millinocket.

The Big Moose Inn in Millinocket was cited for hosting a 65-person reception, which exceeded the 50-person limit for indoor gatherings under Mills’ executive order. The citation is a warning and does not carry any financial penalty, but Shah has said future violations by the Big Moose Inn could result in financial penalties or possibly sanctions against the inn’s health license.

Shah said the Maine CDC is still investigating, but one of the key tools to prevent virus transmission, wearing masks, was “not commonplace or widespread” at the reception.

He said there were signs posted advising people to wear masks, but he’s not sure whether reception guests were specifically directed by Big Moose Inn employees to wear masks. According to the executive order, wearing masks in indoor public places is mandatory, except when eating or drinking.

Overall, Maine reported 12 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, and no additional deaths.

Also, 22 more Mainers have recovered from the disease, the Maine CDC said.

Mills said despite the state’s overall low number of cases, the Millinocket wedding reception illustrates why it’s important to not get “pandemic fatigue” and start socializing like people did pre-pandemic, because one party where people don’t wear masks and physical distance can cause a major outbreak.

Maine has had a total of 4,368 cases of COVID-19, 131 deaths and 3,784 recoveries. Per capita, the state has had among the lowest rates of virus prevalence in the nation. Currently, Maine is third-lowest in the nation for virus cases per capita over the previous week, behind only New Hampshire and Vermont, according to the Harvard Global Health Institute.

The Maine CDC is tracking several current outbreaks, including three cases at the Sanford Fire Department. The Sanford firefighters’ union has complained that it took more than three days to get test results from the Maine CDC for some of its firefighters, and that tests for first responders should be prioritized. Shah said on Tuesday that the turnaround time for almost all of the tests processed at the state lab is within 48 hours, but an unexpected surge in cases one day last week led to the delay in Sanford.

He said prioritizing tests would result in a slowdown for all test results, because the process is like a “conveyor belt” and that prioritizing tests would halt the conveyor belt, leading to a backlog in test results.

Maine’s testing capacity, meanwhile, continues to expand, with the state now performing 244 tests per 100,000 population, up from 190 per 100,000 five days ago, Shah said. Testing has expanded in part because the state continues to establish new “swab and send” sites. The sites, there are now 27, allow anyone who meets testing criteria to quickly get a COVID-19 test and have results within 48 hours.

Hospitalizations continued to be low, with eight people currently hospitalized, five in intensive care units.

The positivity rate in Maine remained low Tuesday, with 0.44 percent of all tests coming back positive. The seven-day average of daily positive tests was 0.74 percent. A lower positivity rate gives state health workers a better chance to control outbreaks through tracking down contacts of those who test positive and isolating those who may be contagious.

The national average is 5.4 percent, a decline of about 3 percentage points over the past month.

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