Two additional coronavirus outbreaks have been detected in York County as the state’s concern about the virus circulating there increases. The latest outbreaks have been reported at a private club, and at an American Legion hall that hosted a funeral reception.
State health investigators have identified three infections associated with the Lafayette Club in Sanford, including two among staff and one in a patron, according to Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. They have also identified four infections in connection with the funeral reception at the American Legion T.W. Cole Post 19, which is also in Sanford.
On Tuesday, Shah said the state has only just begun investigating both outbreaks and has not yet found any direct links between them and the other outbreaks in Maine’s southernmost county. But Shah has pointed to worrying trends in York County and last week warned that Maine could lose its grip over the COVID-19 outbreak if those trends persist. York County has recently seen a test positivity rate and a rate of new infections that are about triple the rates for the state as a whole. And at least half of the state’s active coronavirus outbreaks are in the county.
It’s still not clear what, if any, direct connections there are between the different outbreaks within York County, but even if the state does not find any, Shah said that he’s concerned.
“One scenario is that, for example, these two newest outbreaks are not related in any way to the existing outbreaks,” Shah said. “That’s concerning because it suggests that community transmission is getting to a certain point that it’s generating outbreaks. It also suggests that things like face covering wearing are not where they need to be.”
Shah is also concerned by “the other scenario, which is that all of these outbreaks are in fact interconnected,” he said. If that’s the case, it would mean “the public health advice to stay indoors, to observe quarantine, isolation, wear face coverings, stay distanced, among folks who have been part of identified outbreaks is not getting out there.”
As a result of the recent virus trends, the state recently downgraded the schools in York County from green to yellow status, meaning they are the only ones in the state deemed unsafe to reopen for full-time in-person classes. A number of metrics would have to start improving for the state to reverse that designation, according to Shah.
“Even with a low number of cases or a low positivity rate, the presence of that community transmission is something that gives us pause, because that’s the situation where a few cases in the community could generate an outbreak in a school,” he said.
Shah again urged people in York County to recognize that they can help slow or stop the spread of COVID-19 by wearing face coverings, physical distancing, avoiding large gatherings and staying in quarantine if they’ve been identified as a contact of someone with COVID-19.
“This is an opportunity for folks in York County to do their part and help keep these numbers low,” he said. “At this time it’s too early to tell or predict when things might fall back to a baseline, but this is a resolvable issue. We’ve contended with spikes like this, and we know what’s gotten them under control.”
The state has learned little information so far about the nature of the two latest outbreaks, including whether the people at both facilities were wearing face masks or taking other precautions, Shah said.
David Pray, treasurer of the Lafayette Club, said that he is only aware of two COVID-19 infections among an employee and patron of the club, which has a bar and tables. He said the private establishment has been closed since the cases were detected last week and will remain so for two more weeks. He also said the club has been making bartenders wear face coverings and maintaining six feet of distance between groups of patrons.
“It’s hard to say,” Pray said, when asked whether he knew how those two people caught the infection.
A woman who answered the phone at the American Legion declined to give her name or title, but she said the venue recently hosted an outdoor celebration of life for a veteran in the community. Attendees brought their own food and the American Legion’s staff did not help organize the event, she said, but she otherwise declined to share more details about it. After closing last Thursday, the establishment reopened with state permission on Tuesday after its employees tested negative for COVID-19, she said.
The two new outbreaks are not the only ones to have happened in Sanford. The city’s fire department is dealing with an outbreak that has also affected firefighters at two other York County fire departments. And there have been 10 cases of COVID-19 associated with Sanford’s Calvary Baptist Church, whose pastor also officiated an Aug. 7 wedding in the Katahdin region that has sparked the state’s largest COVID-19 outbreak.
The state has now attributed a total of 158 cases to that wedding outbreak.
One of the secondary outbreaks from that wedding has been at the York County Jail in Alfred, where a guest of the Aug. 7 wedding is employed. There have now been at least 73 cases associated with the outbreak at the jail: 48 inmates, 18 workers and seven of their family members. There are also nine other family members who have probably been infected, according to Shah.
York County is now retaining a third party to investigate what contributed to the jail outbreak and whether the facility violated any specific protocols. According to the state Department of Corrections, the jail failed to screen staff for COVID-19 symptoms and didn’t require workers or inmates to wear face masks before the outbreak was detected.
In addition, Maplecrest Rehabilitation and Living Center in the Somerset County town of Madison has seen an outbreak after a guest of the wedding passed COVID-19 to a parent, who in turn passed it to another child who works at the facility, according to Maine CDC.
Now, there have been 20 cases at Maplecrest: nine among residents and 11 among staff.
Three people who did not attend the wedding have died in connection with the Aug. 7 wedding outbreak, including a woman in her 80s from the Millinocket area, and two people from Somerset County: a man in his 70s and a woman in her 80s.