More than two dozen cases of the coronavirus have been traced back to a wedding reception that took place at the Big Moose Inn in Millinocket on Aug. 7, and more cases are expected, according to Millinocket Regional Hospital and state health officials.
Twenty-eight people connected with the event had tested positive as of 4 p.m. Monday, according to Dr. Robert Peterson, CEO of Millinocket Regional Hospital. Those who tested positive included people who attended, and others who had been in contact with those who attended.
Approximately 65 guests attended the event. Maine’s rules for preventing the spread of the coronavirus have limited the size of indoor gatherings to 50 guests, while outdoor gatherings can include as many as 100 guests.
The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention said it’s looking into adherence to those state requirements as part of its outbreak investigation. The Big Moose Inn did not respond to a request for comment.
The outbreak from the wedding reception brings a spike in cases to an area that had seen few cases in recent months. The town of Millinocket had seen no coronavirus cases as of Aug. 9, according to town-by-town data from the Maine CDC. Neighboring East Millinocket had seen five or fewer cases.
In early June, when the CDC first released town-by-town case data, nearby Medway had Maine’s highest rate of COVID-19 cases, with 12 cases for a population of fewer than 1,400 people. But as of Aug. 9, the town hadn’t seen any new cases beyond the first 12, and it no longer has the state’s highest infection rate.
“I guess it would be considered a fool’s paradise to think that we were going to be able to avoid it completely,” said Millinocket Town Councilor Michael Madore. “I’ve gotten a little lax in doing the things that are necessary, like wearing my mask. This is a wake-up call for everybody, including myself. We need to be as careful as possible.”
While COVID-19 has led to the cancellation of many weddings, some couples have made them into smaller affairs than originally planned. Across the country, weddings have proven to be major spreaders of COVID-19, with people in close contact with others for hours at a time.
Everyone who tested positive at the Aug. 7 wedding has been instructed to quarantine for a minimum of 14 days, even if they’re asymptomatic, according to Peterson. No one connected to the outbreak has been hospitalized for COVID-19 so far.
Millinocket Regional Hospital has expanded hours for testing, and is conducting those tests away from its main campus, at the walk-in clinic in East Millinocket. The hospital has also pushed back all appointments and procedures that can safely be postponed, including elective surgeries, while health officials determine the extent of the outbreak in the area.
Millinocket closed its town hall for the public on Monday due to the newly confirmed COVID-19 cases in the area, according to Town Manager John Davis.
County-level data published daily by the Maine CDC show there was an increase of about 20 cases over the weekend in Penobscot County. As of late Sunday night, the county had recorded 191 total cases of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic in March, up from 172 on Friday.
“We were informed that there were some cases, and then we shut the clerk’s office window down,” Davis said. “We’ll try to keep business going as usual while we’re shut down, which isn’t going to be easy but we’ll give it our best shot.”
Davis also said Millinocket School Department had shut down its buildings for the time being. He did not say when both would reopen.