Maine officials connect 5 coronavirus deaths to a wedding reception

Maine officials connect 5 coronavirus deaths to a wedding reception

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The Big Moose Inn on Millinocket Lake in Millinocket, Maine is seen in this Aug. 18, 2020 file photo. A COVID-19 outbreak connected to a wedding reception held at the inn in early August has led to more than 175 cases of the virus and at least five deaths, state officials say. (Linda Coan O’Kresik/The Bangor Daily News/The Associated Press)

At least five people have died in connection to a coronavirus outbreak that continues to sicken people in Maine following a wedding reception held over the summer that violated state virus guidelines, public health authorities said.

The August wedding reception at the Big Moose Inn in Millinocket is linked to more than 175 confirmed cases of the virus, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday.

Maine authorities have identified overlaps between the wedding reception and outbreaks elsewhere in the state. An employee of the York County Jail attended the wedding, Maine CDC officials have said. Maine health officials have also said a staff member from a Madison long-term care facility, which is the site of four of the five deaths, attended the event.

The virus cases stemming from the wedding have spanned hundreds of kilometres in a state that had largely controlled the spread of the coronavirus through the summer. Maine has reported fewer than 5,000 cases of the virus in total since March.

But the growing number of cases related to the wedding, which exceeded the state’s guidelines of 50 people or fewer at indoor gatherings, could undo some of that progress if it continues to swell. Authorities have said more than 65 people attended the wedding.

The wedding was also officiated by pastor Todd Bell of Calvary Baptist Church in Sanford. The Maine CDC is currently investigating to determine if an outbreak at the church is connected to the wedding outbreak.

Calvary Baptist Church issued a statement on Tuesday that said “a number of Calvary Baptist Church members attended” the wedding reception. The statement said the church is taking precautions to limit the spread of the virus, and it will defend its right to continue holding services.

“The Calvary Baptist Church has a legal right to meet. The authority of a local Christian church, a Jewish synagogue, or a Muslim mosque to gather for their respective religious services is a time-honoured part of our nation’s history since its inception,” the statement said. “These religious activities are also fully protected under the First Amendment to our United States Constitution.”

Bell has been critical of government attempts to control coronavirus, and videos show he has held services without the use of physical distancing. He hired a lawyer known nationally for defending the religious rights of churches. Bell did not respond to a request Tuesday for comment.


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