A COVID-19 outbreak in Maine traced back to a wedding ceremony that violated gathering advice earlier this month has now infected more than 85 people and spread across counties—reaching both a jail and a rehabilitation center.
In a clear example of how rapidly the novel coronavirus can spread, the surge in cases across the state was tied to an August 7 wedding at a church in Millinocket, which was followed by a reception at The Big Moose Inn.
“Overall there are now 87 cases associated with this outbreak,” Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said in a virtual press briefing yesterday, adding the situation could still “spiral.”
Since identifying the event as ground zero, authorities trying to track the virus’ spread have found it has circulated far beyond the local community.
“The 87 includes not just those who attended gatherings… in Millinocket, the wedding and the reception, it also includes nine cases at Maple Crest Rehabilitation facility in Madison, as well as cases associated with York County Jail,” Shah said.
“Because we have identified an epidemiological link between and among all of these cases they constitute a single outbreak, even though the complexion of that outbreak has changed and it looks different in different parts of the state,” he added.
Officials said the probe into the couple who were married is ongoing, but the focus is, for now, on trying to limit the spread of the incurable coronavirus.
“What concerns me… is the fact that the number of individuals who were affected from that initial setting was higher than we would have anticipated,” Shah said.
“It suggests that there was already transmission happening in Penobscot County by the attendees, and when they came together it was sort kind of like a powder keg that was giving off sparks, and generated a higher than expected number of cases.”
The expert said: “It can spiral. That’s what concerns me right now. That 80-plus cases could keep growing and growing and growing. That’s a risk right now.”
Of the 87 cases, 30 were primary—people who directly attended the event. There were 35 secondary cases—contacts of those who attended—and 22 tertiary cases, which are people who were in contact with a secondary case, the director explained.
He said 59 of the people had been symptomatic. Nine cases linked to the wedding were tracked to the Maple Crest Rehabilitation facility, while 18 more cases were identified as having found a way inside the York County Jail complex via a staff member.
The CDC director said there are two factors that drive the potential for an outbreak of the COVID-19 respiratory disease: the duration and density of an event.
He noted: “What we saw here was an event, a wedding and then a reception, so a long-duration event with a fair number of individuals, greater than the 50 that are allowed… when we see those two factors combine… we see the potential for outbreaks.”
According to NECN, the Big Moose Inn has since had its operating licenses suspended and was given an “imminent health hazard citation” warning last week.
There are now more than 3,900 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Maine, with the virus being linked to 132 deaths. Health experts have logged an additional 453 probable cases.
Shah said that testing is key: “Our view is that you don’t stop the plows in the middle of the storm, you keep plowing. Or, in this setting, you keep testing.”