Maine health officials are warning that the more than 20 people who have so far tested positive for the coronavirus in connection with an Aug. 7 wedding reception in Millinocket may have passed the virus along to others since the reception, potentially causing a secondary wave of infections as they’ve returned to their communities.
At least 24 people have been sickened in that outbreak, either because they attended the wedding reception at the Big Moose Inn or were exposed to people who did, according to Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
On Tuesday, Shah declined to confirm a separate announcement from the CEO of Millinocket Regional Hospital that 28 people tested positive in connection with the outbreak, but he said that the state’s investigation is still in the early stages and that the official case count will probably soon reach or surpass that number.
“What they’re reporting is the total number of individuals who are positive,” Shah said of the hospital. “What we’re reporting is the number that are associated with the outbreak. As we learn more, those numbers will likely converge.”
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Two dozen cases of the coronavirus have been traced back to a wedding reception that took place at the Big Moose Inn in Millinocket on Aug. 7.
Given that two dozen infections have already been confirmed since the investigation was launched on Monday, Shah added, “We believe that some of those individuals who were part of this first set of cases could, as they are going back to their lives, there’s a possibility that they could introduce COVID-19 in their families and their communities. So we are on the lookout for secondary waves of transmission.”
The state has not released much new information since announcing on Monday that there had been 24 confirmed cases connected to the wedding reception, which was attended by 65 people.
During a news conference, Shah said that the state is still investigating whether the outbreak originated there or other places that hosted wedding guests. He called The Big Moose Inn “the connecting point” in the outbreak.
Shah wouldn’t say whether a church in the Millinocket area was the site of the wedding that preceded it. He noted that no staff of the Big Moose Inn have so far been confirmed to have COVID-19 and that the 24 cases recognized by the state were all in people from Maine, but he was not able to offer more specific information about where those people are from.
Jeanne Lambrew, commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, said that the state is investigating whether the reception was held indoors and determining whether there is a need to take enforcement action against the venue. That’s because Maine’s rules for preventing the spread of the coronavirus have limited the size of indoor gatherings to 50 guests, while outdoor gatherings can include as many as 100 guests.
“We are looking into whether or not this particular hotel was in violation of the executive order that does limit large gatherings to 50 people,” Lambrew said. “As a reminder, we have these limits on large gatherings for a reason. There’s a good public health reason to try to limit the number of people that are interacting in settings like weddings, because of the possibility of rapid spread of COVID-19.”
The Big Moose Inn’s owner hasn’t responded to multiple requests for comment this week.
Numerous institutions in Millinocket have been closed to the public since the discovery of the cases, including town hall and the Millinocket School Department. The Maine Judicial Branch also announced that the Millinocket District Court would be closed on Wednesday.