Sometimes Maine can feel like one big small town. That’s not always a good thing.

On Aug. 7, a person or persons with COVID-19 attended a wedding reception in Millinocket. In fewer than three weeks, that event has been linked to at least 85 infections.

The reception has been associated with infections as far as 235 miles away, traveling from the Katahdin region all the way to York County town of Alfred. It has triggered outbreaks in a jail and a nursing home, two of the places most vulnerable to infections and death from the virus, and caused the delay of the start of the school year in the Millinocket area.

It has led to the death of one woman who did not attend the wedding, and infected at least 20 people whose only connection to the event was having contact with someone who had contact with someone who was there.

That the outbreak from the reception at Big Moose Inn in Millinocket spread so quickly, causing outbreaks of their own at the Maplecrest Rehabilitation & Living Center in Madison and the York County Jail, shows how interconnected Maine is, and how easily an infection in one part of the state can affect residents hundreds of miles away.

It shows that, however low the daily number of new cases looks, the novel coronavirus is still in Maine, and that all it would take is a few moments of complacency to undo a lot of the good work that has been done over several months to keep COVID-19 in check in the Pine Tree State.

And it shows that the rules matter.

The indoor reception at the Big Moose Inn was attended by 65 people, exceeding the 50-person limit for indoor gatherings now in place in Maine.

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said masks, which are required indoors, were “not commonplace or widespread” at the reception. A guest at the Big Moose at the time of the reception told the Press Herald that the inn was crowded with guests, with no distancing and very few masks.

By blowing off concerns about the coronavirus, the people at the reception created the circumstances for its spread: a big group of people indoors for an extended period of time, unmasked and close together, presumably doing what people do at a wedding reception – talking, laughing, shouting, singing.

They broke the rules put in place to keep people safe, and by doing so, they put themselves and others across the state at risk.

The couple who held the wedding could have opted for fewer guests. They could have demanded everyone wear a mask and keep their distance. The owners of the inn, who were cited for a number of COVID-related public health violations, should have spoken up when the couple didn’t.

The wedding and its reception could have been held outdoors, too, where distancing is easier and ventilation makes the spread of the virus less likely.

They didn’t have to postpone the wedding or leave out some guests. If they had just followed the rules, we likely never would have heard about their nuptials.

Instead, dozens of people are sick and one is dead, and we aren’t even done measuring the fallout.


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