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COVID-19 outbreak linked to Maine wedding has residents feeling ‘on edge'

The increasing numbers of people who have tested positive for COVID-19 linked to an outbreak that began at a wedding in Maine have left residents of the area feeling “on edge,” according to Millinocket Fire Chief Thomas Malcolm.

There have been 53 cases of coronavirus and one death linked to the Aug. 7 wedding, and local officials fear that there could be more.

“Prior to that we had no issues with COVID-19,” Malcolm said in a telephone interview Monday.

Malcolm said that in response to the outbreak, the town offices in Millinocket are closed and local officials are revamping their plans to reopen the schools. Local officials also are using funding from a state grant to promote the wearing of face coverings and to remind tourists to adhere to social distancing guidelines.

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“Everybody’s being real cautious,” Malcolm said.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention said the 53 positive cases of coronavirus have been linked to the wedding ceremony that was held at a church in East Millinocket and the reception that followed at the Big Moose Inn on Millinocket Lake on Aug. 7.

The individuals ranged from 4 to 98 years old, and 83 percent reported experiencing symptoms of COVID-19, officials said.

Malcolm noted that the Big Moose Inn is not located in the town of Millinocket; it’s actually located in an unorganized territory about 8 miles away from the town. The resort offers suites, a campground, a restaurant, and cabins on Millinocket Lake.

“We’re the nearest community,” said Malcolm.

Approximately 65 guests attended the Aug. 7 wedding ceremony at the Tri Town Baptist Church in East Millinocket and the reception, officials said.

As of Aug. 22, there were 41 confirmed and 12 probable cases included in the outbreak investigation. They include people who did not attend the wedding or reception but had “close contact with individuals who were present at the event [secondary cases] and close contacts of the secondary cases,” Maine CDC officials said.

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One of those who tested positive, an adult female patient at Millinocket Regional Hospital, died.

“As far as identifying the patient, that’s something that we will not be doing,” Katie Mackin, a spokeswoman for the hospital, said in an e-mail on Monday.

Malcolm said the Aug. 7 wedding reception was held indoors at the inn.

“It was like a sit-down meal,” said Malcolm. “They did cite them for being over capacity.”

Maine CDC officials said they delivered an imminent health hazard citation to the Big Moose Inn for exceeding the state’s indoor gathering limit of 50 individuals when it hosted the wedding reception. (Maine currently limits indoor gatherings to 50 people, and outdoor gatherings are limited to 100, with no more than five people per 1,000 square feet.)

Malcolm said as far as he knows, the inn is still operating.

Phone calls to the inn were not immediately returned.

Malcolm said local officials are still waiting to get some test results linked to the outbreak, and they hope that the rest will come back negative.

“I’m hoping we’re leveling out or starting on the other side now,” Malcolm said.




Emily Sweeney can be reached at emily.sweeney@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @emilysweeney.