Main Street in downtown Calais. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

The number of coronavirus cases associated with the Second Baptist Church in Calais has increased to 27, state public health officials said Wednesday.

The increase includes cases already known to the state’s public health agency, but were not previously linked to the church outbreak, according to Nirav Shah, Director of Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. On Tuesday, only four cases were associated with the church.

Eighteen of those who are infected attended at least one service at the church, while the other nine cases are among those people’s household members, Shah said.

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The pastor at the church, Matthew Burden, has said that he and one of his two sons are among the people associated with the church who have tested positive. His wife, Rachel Burden, who is an ed tech at Calais Elementary School, has not tested positive for the disease and is quarantining at home, he said Tuesday. Two students at the school have tested positive for COVID-19 over the past week and classes have gone fully remote until Nov. 9.

The church had urged parishioners to wear face masks as much as possible and to socially distance during services, but has not had any in-person services since Oct. 11. 

Burden said Tuesday that the church decided to hold services only online after an outbreak was detected earlier this month at the Woodland Pulp mill in nearby Baileyville. As of Tuesday there were 18 cases associated with the mill — many among out-of-state contractors who were working at the mill — but there have been no new cases associated with that outbreak in the past week or so, according to the Maine CDC.

A handful of church members — Burden estimated four — work at the mill, according to the pastor. 

“We weren’t overly worried about the mill connection because of the amount of testing that had been done, but we did take the opportunity to remind people to buckle down on mask use at church” before church officials decided to hold services solely online more than two weeks ago, he said.

The church does not plan to resume in-person services for “the foreseeable future,” Burden added.

The church is one of two in the state associated with ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks. Sixty people have contracted the coronavirus following an outbreak at the Brooks Pentecostal Church in Waldo County.

The church’s outbreak comes as Washington County, which had seen relatively little virus activity earlier on in the pandemic, is experiencing a surge in cases along with the rest of Maine. The county’s total cases have nearly tripled, from 21 to 57, in a little more than a week.

Bill Trotter

Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....