An outbreak linked to an indoor Maine wedding that breached local attendance limits last month has now resulted in three deaths and 147 infections.
The concerning uptick in cases came after the outbreak spread across three separate towns, and officials announced an investigation into a fourth location.
The outbreak began on August 7 when people attended the indoor wedding and reception in the small town of Millinocket, according to MCDC spokesman Robert Long.
The official ceremony took place at Tri-Town Baptist Church and around 65 people attended the reception at Big Moose Inn. The state’s limit on social gatherings is 50 people.
The venue owner has since admitted that they misunderstood local capacity rules and overbooked the event, but by then it was too late.
Maine CDC officials announced that 147 coronavirus cases have been linked to an indoor reception at Big Moose Inn (pictured) in Millinocket, Maine
In the last week of August, officials said there were 53 cases directly connected to the wedding.
By August 31 that number had risen to 123 and on Wednesday it reached 134 cases.
On Friday, 147 Maine residents who attended the wedding or got second-hand infections as a result of the wedding ceremony were recorded.
‘One of the things we’ve learned over the past six months of working with outbreaks and COVID-19 is that no outbreak is an island,’ Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah said during a press briefing.
‘What this really hammers home is that outbreaks are not isolated events. One outbreak can quickly lead to several more outbreaks, especially in a close geographic area.’
Maine CDC spokesperson Robert Long told NBC News that three people have died from the outbreak and none of them had even attended the wedding.
One of those victims includes Theresa Dentremont, an 83-year-old woman who died at Millinocket Regional Hospital on August 21 after contracting the virus.
Officials said Theresa Detremont (pictured) did not attend the Millinocket wedding before she was infected
Detremont did not attend the wedding, but hospital staff believed she may have been infected by someone who did.
Her 97-year-old husband Frank Dentremont, who is a WWII veteran and the oldest resident of resident of East Millinocket, was hospitalized at the same facility a few days later with COVID-19.
His son, Frank Dentremont Jr, revealed in a Facebook post that his father had since miraculously recovered and was due to be discharged from the hospital on Wednesday.
Dentremont Jr told the Washington Post that he recalled hearing about the wedding, but believed his father and stepmother would have been safe.
Theresa Dentremont, 83, died in Maine’s Millinocket Regional Hospital on August 21 after becoming infected with coronavirus. Her 97-year-old husband Frank Dentremont was hospitalized at the same facility a few days later with COVID-19 but has since recovered
Theresa’s stepson and Frank’s son, Frank Dentremont Jr (above with the couple), recalled hearing about the wedding, which has now been linked to 123 of the state’s coronavirus cases, but believed the couple would have been safe
The couple had been self-isolating at their home for much of the pandemic given they fell into the high-risk COVID-19 category.
‘I had heard the stories about the wedding thing,’ he said.
‘I thought, “My dad and stepmom weren’t there. They’ve been quarantining themselves; they’ll be fine”. Who could have known?’
He has also said he isn’t angry at those who went ahead with the wedding. The bride and groom have not been publicly identified.
‘Nobody did this consciously,’ Dentremont Jr said. ‘If they knew they were the ones at fault, I’m sure they’d feel terrible.’
He has described his stepmother as a ‘vivacious woman and wonderful mom’ who loved quilting and handing out handmade tree skirts as Christmas gifts.
The other two victims have not yet been publicly identified.
More than 230 miles south, the York County Jail in Alfred reported a number of cases related to the outbreak.
Infections rose from 18 to 72 cases after an employee of the jail attended the wedding – a 54-case increase that affected nearly all levels of the detention center.
Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah: ‘Right now, across the state, about half of the cases Maine CDC is involved with are in York County’
The numbers are broken down into 46 inmates, 19 staff members and seven families members of jail employees.
The employee who attended the wedding was among one of the first staffers to receive a positive diagnosis.
Another group hit by the recent outbreak were residents at Maple Crest Rehabilitation Center, a nursing home in Madison.
NBC News reports that the nursing home amassed 19 cases associated with the wedding, including eight residents and 11 staffers. A staff member of the nursing home attended the wedding.
Nursing homes and elderly citizens were also noted as vulnerable during the pandemic.
The Life Care Center in Kirkland, Washington, was the site of a devastating outbreak that killed at least 37 residents and was linked to more than 30 cases.
And finally, an outbreak was found at Calvary Baptist Church.
Pastor Todd Bell, who runs his own church 225 miles away in Sanford, officiated the wedding and ten people at his church have tested positive so far.
Officials have said that the church’s cases have not been formally linked to any other outbreaks, but an investigation is ongoing.
Pastor Todd Bell, who runs his own church 225 miles away in Sanford, officiated the August 7 wedding in Millinocket that has now been linked to 147 of the state’s COVID-19 cases
‘We’re still investigating if there are any linkages among them. We have some hypotheses but as with any scientific endeavor, we’ve got to have more than just reports and unconfirmed notions,’ said Shah.
But despite the investigation, Pastor Bell continued to hold an in-person church service.
During his sermon, Bell addressed the coronavirus outbreak linked to the wedding.
‘I officiated the wedding. It was a beautiful wedding,’ Bell told the congregation.
‘Six families from our church went there. We never expected to get COVID. Nobody expected to experience the things that happened because you went to a beautiful wedding like that.’
He said he had been on the receiving end of negative social media comments for officiating the wedding before quoting a Bible verse that reads: ‘Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven.’
‘Men have reviled me,’ he said during his sermon.
Bell’s Calvary Baptist Church went ahead and held indoor services on Sunday – just one day after CDC officials revealed they were investigating an outbreak of COVID-19 at his place of worship. Footage from a livestream of a service showed Bell giving a sermon
The owner of the Big Moose Inn released a statement last week that explained the venue misinterpreted capacity rules and overbooked the venue.
‘It is important to note that because Big Moose Inn has separate rooms for dining as well as outdoor seating, the facility’s approved capacity during this time is 80 persons,’ wrote Cormier, WAGM-TV reports.
‘We understood that there could be no more than 50 persons in our largest room. We did make an error in the interpretation of that rule.
‘Our interpretation was that we could take a wedding party of more than 50 persons, and split them between two rooms as long as it didn’t exceed our total capacity or a specific room’s capacity.’
Cormier added: ‘The State – perhaps, rightfully so – assumes that individuals from a larger group would ignore the room restrictions, and take the opportunity to co-mingle.
While the United States has amassed the largest number of coronavirus cases in the world, Maine’s cases and deaths have remained relatively low compared to other states.
There have been 4,500 cases and 132 deaths over the course of seven months.
Penobscot County, where Millinocket is nestled, has recorded 225 confirmed cases, 15 probable cases and 6 deaths as of Friday evening.
Nearly 30 people have been hospitalized with coronavirus and 208 have been listed as recoveries.
Overall, the United States has counted more six million cases and 186,000 deaths.