MILLINOCKET, Maine — Since March, Linda Cram of East Millinocket has given up many of the hobbies she enjoyed with fellow seniors who live at Oak Park Manor in East Millinocket. They no longer play bingo or attend local dance events.
So Cram, 72, said Tuesday that she didn’t understand why others haven’t made more sacrifices of their own during the coronavirus pandemic — delaying a wedding, for instance.
“We don’t have 28 people to lose. Even one is too bad,” Cram said outside the Dunkin’ store in Millinocket. “People still don’t believe it’s here. They think it’s out there in the cities and we’re not going to get it. Now everybody’s at risk.”
On Tuesday, the day after state health officials confirmed a coronavirus outbreak of at least two dozen cases connected to an Aug. 7 wedding reception in Millinocket, some residents of the Katahdin region were shocked that their area had been hit by such a large virus outbreak while others believed it was simply a matter of time before the virus hit.
The neighboring towns of Millinocket, East Millinocket and Medway had seen little coronavirus activity all summer, after a spring wave of infections that resulted in 12 cases in Medway. So most who spoke to the BDN on Tuesday agreed that the outbreak was a reminder that everyone still needed to take precautions to prevent the virus’ spread, such as wearing masks, keeping a safe distance from others and avoiding group activities, particularly indoors.
State health officials said they were still trying to answer basic questions about what happened at the Aug. 7 wedding that they said 65 people attended. Health officials, for example, are looking into whether the reception was held indoors or outdoors, and whether the reception venue — the Big Moose Inn in Millinocket — had violated any of the state’s coronavirus protocols, such as rules that limit indoor gatherings to 50 people and outdoor gatherings to 100. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control, called the reception “the connecting point” in the outbreak, but said disease investigators don’t yet know if the outbreak originated there.
Jen Tower’s anxiety about the coronavirus had started to ebb, but then word started to trickle out in the area about the wedding outbreak. A few days ago, her husband received a call from his physical therapist, who informed him of the outbreak, she said.
On Tuesday, as she checked out customers during the afternoon rush at Ellis Family Market in East Millinocket, Tower said her anxiety about the virus had returned.
Clockwise from left: Jackie Powers, who works at Ellis Family Market in East Millinocket, disinfects shopping carts after each use; a sign on Penobscot Avenue in Millinocket; a health care provider works out of a truck in the clinic’s parking lot on Tuesday; downtown Millinocket (Linda Coan O’Kresik | BDN).
“Did they have to have their wedding?” she said. “We’re a small community of a lot of older people. I just don’t get why they did it.”
The market’s bookkeeper, Viola DeWitt, said she had noticed an increase in the number of customers opting for curbside pickup in the past few days. DeWitt said she learned of the wedding outbreak on Friday through someone she knows, and that the store in response expanded its curbside pickup and grocery delivery options that had more recently waned in popularity.
“I had no idea that there was a wedding going on, and it was surprising to find out that there were 60-plus people,” she said. “Knowing that this was in the middle of a pandemic, I wish it would’ve been scaled down.”
READ MORE ON THE Millinocket wedding OUTBREAK
The virus outbreak has caused the Millinocket town office, the Millinocket School Department and Millinocket District Court to shut down, and Millinocket Regional Hospital has postponed a number of appointments and elective procedures. But elsewhere in town on Tuesday, it appeared to be business as usual.
The Big Moose Inn was still open Tuesday afternoon, and even though masks were available at the front desk for $5 each, not every guest inside the establishment was wearing a face covering. The inn’s owner hasn’t responded to multiple requests for comment.
The owners of a store near the Big Moose Inn and a hot dog shop in East Millinocket both said that their businesses had not been affected by the outbreak.
Millinocket Regional Hospital has set up expanded coronavirus testing at its walk-in clinic in East Millinocket. The hospital had performed 300 tests as of Wednesday afternoon, and the results of approximately 190 tests were pending, said Dr. Robert Peterson, the hospital’s CEO. The extent of the outbreak will become clearer with more results, which are expected Thursday, he said.
One person who tested positive and is linked to the outbreak had been hospitalized as of Wednesday afternoon, Peterson said.