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Officials believe coronavirus outbreak linked to Aug. 7 wedding in Maine tied to smaller cluster at church

The Big Moose Inn on Millinocket Lake in Millinocket, Maine.
The Big Moose Inn on Millinocket Lake in Millinocket, Maine.Linda Coan O'Kresik/Associated Press

Authorities believe a now-notorious Aug. 7 wedding in the area of Millinocket, Maine, linked to 177 coronavirus cases, including seven deaths, is connected to a smaller outbreak of 10 cases at the church of the pastor who presided over the nuptials, a public health official said Thursday.

Dr. Nirav D. Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention, said authorities are “considering it our working hypothesis” that the wedding outbreak is tied to the smaller cluster of cases at Cavalry Baptist Church in Sanford, Maine. The church’s pastor, Todd Bell, officiated the nuptials.

However, Shah said during his regular briefing with reporters, “we may learn facts later that either prove or [disprove] that hypothesis.”

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Shah said none of the seven people who have died attended the event. Six deaths were among residents of the Maplecrest Rehabilitation & Living Center in Madison, Maine. A total of 39 cases have been linked to Maplecrest, according to Shah, who said previously that a wedding attendee infected a parent, who passed the virus to another child who works at Maplecrest.

Additional cases linked to the wedding have arisen at the York County Jail in Alfred, Maine. Officials have said one wedding guest works at the facility.

On Thursday, Shah also provided information on additional outbreaks currently under review by his agency.

They include 18 infections linked to the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, three cases at the Baker Company in Sanford, Maine, and four cases at a Buffalo Wild Wings in Auburn, Maine.

Regarding the shipyard outbreak, Shah said at least two of the 18 cases aren’t employees but close household contacts of infected workers. Also among the 18 cases are several people who frequently commuted to the shipyard together in a van, Shah said.

He said 13 of the 18 cases tied to the shipyard outbreak are Maine residents, four live in New Hampshire, and one person lives in Massachusetts.

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But the Aug. 7 wedding remains the largest outbreak in the state during the pandemic.

It was held at Tri Town Baptist Church in East Millinocket and the reception followed at the Big Moose Inn on Millinocket Lake, officials have said. The roughly 65 guests at the wedding and the reception ranged in age from 4 to 98 years old, and 83 percent reported experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 afterward, authorities said.

Calvary Baptist Church said Tuesday in a statement that “a number of Calvary Baptist Church members attended” the wedding reception. The statement said the church is taking precautions to limit the spread of the virus and will defend its right to continue holding services.

“The Calvary Baptist Church has a legal right to meet,” the statement said. “The authority of a local Christian church, a Jewish synagogue, or a Muslim mosque to gather for their respective religious services is a time-honored part of our nation’s history since its inception. These religious activities are also fully protected under the First Amendment to our United States Constitution.”

Material from the Associated Press and prior Globe stories was used in this report.


Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.