PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — A Maine wedding on Aug. 7 is linked to coronavirus outbreaks in at least two other locations in the state, with more than 170 people contracting the virus and seven deaths since.
It all started with a church wedding and following reception near the Mount Katahdin region and spread to the community at large and to a nursing home in Madison.
An attendee worked at the York County Jail, 220 miles away, where there are more than 70 cases. The state is also investigating an outbreak at a church in Sanford, home of the wedding’s officiant.
Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control, said the single event has the power to undo the state’s progress during the pandemic. The virus can become “the uninvited guest at every single wedding, party or event in Maine,” he warned.
The outbreak changed the calculus of state health officials, who urged renewed vigilance in a state that had largely controlled the virus previously, Shah said.
“It is spreading in the community in and around York County with remarkable force,” he said.
The epicenter was an unlikely place. Millinocket is a rural community that serves as gateway to North Woods made famous by Henry David Thoreau. Prior to the wedding, the community had no cases of the coronavirus.
It unfolded on a sunny day in August with a wedding at the Tri Town Baptist Church in East Millinocket and a reception at the Big Moose Inn in Millinocket, population 4,400.
There were 65 guests at the Big Moose Inn — violating the state’s 50-person limit for indoor events — and many attendees didn’t wear masks or socially distance from each other, state officials said. Other guests not affiliated with the wedding brought the number to more than 100.
The officiant at the wedding, the Rev. Todd Bell of Calvary Baptist Church in Sanford, joined several members of his congregation. About 10 of his congregants also have tested positive for the virus. He declined to speak to The Associated Press.
On a video, which is no longer public on YouTube, Bell said he’s been “reviled” because of the wedding.
Already struggling, Maine’s summer wedding industry tightened rules, forcing people to pare down guest lists, or cancel events altogether. Across the state, brides and grooms scrambled as event venues reassessed safety rules during the pandemic.
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Associated Press writer Patrick Whittle contributed to this report.