The Brooks Pentecostal Church in Waldo County was closed Sunday morning, after state health officials said they had detected an outbreak there. Credit: Bill Trotter / BDN

Waldo County finds itself back in a position it hasn’t been in since April as it contends with a COVID-19 outbreak of at least 42 cases linked to a church in Brooks.

Until last week, the county of fewer than 40,000 residents hadn’t seen a major outbreak since early in the pandemic, when the coronavirus swept through The Commons at Tall Pines nursing home, infecting 43 residents and employees and killing 13 residents there.

On Tuesday, Waldo County had 49 known active cases of the virus, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

A look at Waldo County’s case numbers since April tells the story of a county that saw one of the state’s largest COVID-19 outbreaks early on, then saw little growth in infections until the outbreak connected to the Brooks Pentecostal Church earlier this month and a number of cases in Waldo County schools.

CDC officials on Tuesday linked the outbreak at the church to cases at the schools and said it had also spread from there to an assisted-living facility in Searsport.

The size of the outbreak has boosted Waldo County’s case numbers to the point where the county — home to 3 percent of Maine’s population — has accounted for almost a fifth of the state’s new cases over the past week. The county’s total case count jumped 59 percent in that week — to 127 on Monday from 80 a week earlier.

The growth in cases in Waldo County follows spikes in infections in a handful of other rural counties where the virus hadn’t spread much until recently — such as Oxford and Somerset counties — as cases in Maine rebound.

The virus outbreak at The Commons at Tall Pines nursing home in Belfast was one of Maine’s first experiences with a large coronavirus outbreak. As a result, Waldo County exceeded Maine’s rate of new infections for much of April before infections at the nursing home plateaued and state health officials declared the outbreak closed on May 11.

From the official end of the Tall Pines outbreak, Waldo County’s infections grew at a much slower pace than the rest of the state’s. It took until last week — more than five months later — for the county’s case count to double. The state’s total cases, meanwhile, doubled in just the five weeks after that outbreak, between May 11 and June 22, according to Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention case data.

Waldo County’s rate of new daily cases — measured as a rolling, seven-day average of new cases for every 10,000 residents — exceeded the rate for the rest of the state for much of April as the Tall Pines outbreak grew. Then, except for a brief period in late August, Waldo County’s rate dropped below the rest of the state’s until last Wednesday, as the church outbreak took hold.

As of Monday, Waldo County’s rate of active cases — the number of active infections per 10,000 residents — was more than 2 1/2 times the rate for the state as a whole.

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