Authorities have now linked 144 COVID-19 cases, including two deaths, to an Aug. 7 wedding in Millinocket, Maine.
Dr. Nirav D. Shah, head of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said the second death was a man in his 70s from Somerset County. It wasn’t clear if the man had attended the wedding. The first person whose death was linked to the outbreak, Theresa Dentremont, 83, did not attend the event, officials said.
Shah said the cases include 56 wedding guests and their secondary and tertiary contacts, 46 inmates and 19 staff members at the York County Jail, and 16 residents and employees of the Maplecrest Rehabilitation & Living Center in Madison, Maine.
Eight inmates at the York County Jail had tested positive within the past day, Shah said.
“Our concern level remains high,” Shah said, for the jail and all of York County, where about half the known outbreaks are located. The situation in York County “has the potential to spiral” and affect other areas if it’s not contained, Shah said.
“No outbreak is an island,” Shah said. “One outbreak can quickly lead to several more outbreaks.”
Among the York County outbreaks is one at Cavalry Baptist Church in Sanford, Shah said. Ten cases have been associated with the outbreak. The church’s pastor, Todd Bell, officiated the wedding in Millinocket on Aug. 7.
Shah said the church outbreak had not been directly linked to the earlier wedding, but that contact tracers are investigating.
Shah said his team has been in regular communication with Bell and on Thursday sent him a letter outlining public health recommendations and “our expectations of compliance.” Shah stressed that officials want to see “action” around compliance, not just “communication.”
Bell gave a defiant sermon on Aug. 30, one day after the Maine CDC announced it was investigating a coronavirus cluster among those affiliated with the church.
“I’ll tell you what the world wants all the churches to do,” Bell said during one of two Sunday services, which the church posted on YouTube. “They want us to shut down, go home, and let people get used to that just long enough until we can finally stop the advancing of the Gospel.”
No one answered the phone at a number listed for Bell’s church Thursday.
Meanwhile, York County Manager Gregory T. Zinser said officials are hiring an outside investigator to review the outbreak at the jail.
The county plans to shortly identify the third-party investigator, Zinser said. He said the “first indication” that the outbreak linked to the wedding had spread to the jail came on Aug. 19.
Currently, infected inmates are being housed in a separate unit in single cells, he said.
“We understand we are operating under some difficult circumstances,” Zinser said. “However, with the protocols we put in place ... we are able to keep up with our duty to man and staff the facility.”
There are approximately 106 inmates at the jail, which has a capacity of about 250. A small number of infected correctional officers have reported mild, flu-like symptoms, and some infected inmates have complained of issues such as diarrhea, fever, and chills.
Shah urged Maine residents to cooperate with contact tracers, noting that they will not ask about sensitive matters such as immigration status, finances, or social security numbers, and do not track cell phone location data.
“The bottom line here is that Maine CDC contact tracers are never gonna give you up, they’re never gonna let you down,” Shah said, riffing on the 1980s pop tune from Rick Astley. “They’re never gonna run around, and desert you. Maine CDC contact tracers are never gonna make you cry, they’re never gonna say goodbye, and they’re never gonna tell a lie and hurt you.”
In a more serious vein, Shah urged Maine residents to exercise caution over Labor Day weekend, when precautions like face coverings and physical distancing will remain paramount.
“COVID-19 likes holidays. It can make an uninvited appearance at just about any backyard gathering ... that you might have planned,” Shah said.