State health authorities have linked more than 60 COVID-19 cases to a wedding reception that happened Aug. 7 at the Big Moose Inn on Millinocket Lake. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

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While many details have yet to be clarified, what we do know about the spread of COVID-19 that originated at a wedding reception earlier this month at Millinocket Lake offers a vivid reminder that coronavirus should be taken seriously and that safety requirements, such as limiting the number of people in indoor spaces, must be heeded to protect the health and lives of people we don’t even know.

According to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 85 people have tested positive for coronavirus as a result of the Aug. 7 wedding reception. That number has been increasing for days.

On Tuesday, Nirav Shah, the head of the Maine CDC, said that outbreaks at a nursing home in Madison and the York County Jail are tied to the wedding.

One woman, who did not attend the wedding or reception, has died after contracting coronavirus from someone who did attend, the CDC has said.

Thirty-two of those who have tested positive attended the reception or wedding. Another 33 are secondary, which means they came in contact with attendees, and 20 are tertiary, who are contacts of the secondary cases.

Those infected range in age from 4 to 98.

A guest of the wedding works at the York County Jail. Eighteen people at the jail building — seven inmates, nine staff members and two York County government employees — have now tested positive, Shah said.

Another guest of the wedding reportedly passed the virus to a parent, who then passed it on to one of their other children who works at Maplecrest Rehabilitation and Living Center in Madison. Four residents and one other employee of the center have now been infected with COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, Shah said Tuesday.

We can’t say all of this was avoidable, but safety precautions — such as following indoor gathering limits and wearing masks — could have significantly reduced the chances of sparking such an outbreak. Weddings, and other milestone events, are no doubt important. But reimagining or rescheduling them with safety in mind, as many families around the world have done, is another way to protect the health and wellbeing of family members, and complete strangers.

“COVID-19 can be the uninvited guest at every single wedding, party or event in Maine,” Shah said during a Tuesday news conference. “These recent examples show how aggressive and how opportunistic this virus is and how quickly it can move from one community to another.”

About 65 people attend the wedding reception at the Big Moose Inn, according to the CDC. The reception was held indoors and masks were not widely worn by attendees. The state limit for indoor gatherings is 50 people. The inn has been cited for an “imminent health hazard,” which carries no fine but can bring harsher penalties if state officials determine the venue again violated health rules in the future.

It is unclear how many people attended the indoor wedding ceremony at Tri Town Baptist Church in East Millinocket and whether it will be cited by state health officials.

The growing outbreak has caused frustration and confusion among Katahdin-area residents.

Because of the pandemic, 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.

Cram, 72, told the BDN last week that she didn’t understand why others haven’t made more sacrifices of their own during the coronavirus pandemic. “People still don’t believe it’s here,” she said. “They think it’s out there in the cities and we’re not going to get it. Now everybody’s at risk.”

Cram brings up two important points. First, because there are fewer cases of coronavirus in Maine than in many other states and Maine’s cases are clustered in its most populous counties, many people feel there is little danger from the virus, especially in rural areas. This is a dangerous assumption.

And, as the situation in the Katahdin region shows, once people have been exposed, the virus can spread very quickly to dozens of people with no connection to the original outbreak.

“Did they have to have their wedding?” wondered Jen Tower, produce manager at Ellis Family Market in East Millinocket. “We’re a small community of a lot of older people. I just don’t get why they did it.”

The bottom line is that we must all take COVID-19 seriously and behave as if it’s in our community. That means following state mandates and guidelines about group sizes, social distancing and wearing a mask.

We’re sorry that this may mean putting off or altering meaningful events. But that is far better than knowing you’ve spread a deadly illness to family, friends and strangers.

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The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Editorial Page Editor Susan Young, Assistant Editorial Page Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked...