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Maine CDC: Millinocket Wedding COVID-19 Cases Spread, Sparking Outbreaks Elsewhere

Robert F. Bukaty
Associated Press
Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, speaks at a news conference Monday, March 16, 2020, in Augusta, Maine.

Maine logged an additional 12 cases of COVID-19 overnight, bringing the total since the pandemic arrived here to 4,368. That's according to new figures posted Tuesday by the Maine Center for Disease Control. At a briefing Tuesday, CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah said the death toll remained unchanged overnight at 131.

A total of 3,784 Mainers have recovered from the virus, 22 more than Tuesday, Shah said. That leaves 453 active cases of the disease in Maine, a drop of 17. At some point during their illness, 410 people have had to be hospitalized. Eight are currently hospitalized, he said, five of them in intensive care. One person is on a ventilator.

Shah said the state continues to investigate a large outbreak of COVID-19 associated with a wedding and reception Aug. 7 in Millinocket. He said so far epidemiologists have indentified a total of 60 cases associated with that event. Twenty-two are among people who attended the wedding. They then spread it to another 24 close contacts, who have since spread it to an additional 14 people.

Shah said one wedding guest infected a parent, who spread it to another child who works at the Maplecrest Rehab and Living Center in Madison, where six cases have been identified. "That's just an example of how quickly this virus can spread from a guest, to a parent, to another child to a nursing home," Shah said.

Another outbreak related to the Millinocket wedding, he said, has occurred at the York County Jail, where 18 cases have been identified among inmates and staff, as well as others who work in the complex. "A staff member at the York County Jail attended the wedding," Shah said, and was among the first at the jail to test positive.

The quick and wide spread of the disease shows "how aggressive and how opportunistic this virus is, and how quickly it can move from one community to another," Shah said. "It can be the uninvited guest at every single wedding, party, or event."

Shah responded to criticsm that the state lab took too long to deliver test results to first responders in York County. He said some tests done on firefighters in Sanford, Saco and Buxton, where four cases associated with the three departments have been identified, were delayed because of a sudden surge of test results that nearly doubled the lab's usual workload. He said the state has an almost 100% success rate in getting test results out within 48 hours.

He said 10 firefighters whose results were delayed a day tested negative.

Shah said the state continues to look into cases at Maine colleges, including four identified at Colby College in Waterville, and five within the University of Maine System, four at the Orono campus and one at the Law School in Portland.

Maine Gov. Janet Mills, who joined Shah at the briefing, said Maine has been "largely successful in mitigating the spread of COVID-19 over the past five and a half months." She urged residents to maintain their vigilance and not give in to "pandemic fatigue," which she said can have fatal consequences.

"A woman who didn't attend the wedding or the reception [in Millinocket] lost her life to this virus," Mills said. "One person, one contact, can light a match, can spark a fire that we might be unable to put out."

She also urged people to keep up with vaccinations for other illnesses, such as measles and the flu. She reiterated that $1 million in funds have been made available for help with vaccinations and other health needs. 

Originally published 11:21 a.m. Aug. 25, 2020.

Updated at 3:05 p.m. Aug. 25, 2020.