A Pentecostal church in Pittsfield has become the third Maine church within a month to record a coronavirus outbreak amid a statewide spike in cases that has pushed the state’s daily numbers of new cases to record levels.
Eleven cases of COVID-19 have been connected to the Deeper Life Assembly church, Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Nirav Shah said Monday.
The outbreak there follows recently reported outbreaks at a Pentecostal church in Brooks and a Baptist church in Calais. It also comes as Somerset County sees an uptick in cases that hadn’t previously been connected to large outbreaks.
The Deeper Life Assembly church did not immediately respond to requests for comment. However, a review of the church’s Facebook page shows it has hosted what it’s called “revival services” for weeks, and recently hosted the traveling, Florida-based evangelists G.W. and Carol Carroll.
While Somerset County has seen a recent uptick in cases, Pittsfield itself has seen few cases among residents. The town had recorded five or fewer cases of COVID-19 as of Oct. 25, according to the Maine CDC.
The other two ongoing church outbreaks have driven growth in case numbers in counties that had previously seen little virus activity.
more on outbreaks at Maine churches
The outbreak at Brooks Pentecostal Church is now connected to 60 cases, and likely began the weekend of Oct. 2, when between 100 and 150 people gathered for an indoor fellowship service at the church. Masks were available, but not routinely used. The outbreak quickly changed the virus trajectory in Waldo County, which had seen little virus activity since a large outbreak at a Belfast nursing home at the start of the pandemic in April.
In Washington County, which has seen one of the most pronounced upticks in new cases over the past week, 27 cases have been connected to Second Baptist Church in Calais.
All three counties experiencing church-related outbreaks have seen their school safety ratings downgraded from green to yellow in recent weeks, signaling that it’s unsafe for schools there to be full time for in-person instruction.
The COVID-19 landscape in Maine has worsened dramatically in the past week, with transmission of the virus happening virtually everywhere in the state, unlike a previous surge in cases in the spring that was largely concentrated in more urban areas in Cumberland, York and Androscoggin counties.
New cases have been recorded in all 16 counties in recent days, according to Maine CDC data.
Despite the church-related outbreaks, the spike Maine is seeing now stands out from the last time the state was seeing similar growth in new daily cases in the spring because it does not seem to be driven by large outbreaks. Rather, the Maine CDC has said that the virus is spreading at small, indoor gatherings of friends and family, as more activities have moved inside due to colder weather.
During the spring, the growth was largely driven by large outbreaks at long-term care facilities and workplaces. And when cases spiked in York county in late August and September, that increase was tied to an Aug. 7 wedding reception in the Katahdin region.
As of Monday, Maine’s seven-day positivity rate increased to 1.06 percent, which is double the seven-day rate from two weeks ago, Shah said. Maine’s positivity rate has been under 1 percent since roughly the end of July. The positivity rate is the percentage of coronavirus tests coming back positive. It’s a metric that offers an indication of how actively the virus is spreading in a particular area, and whether enough tests are being conducted.
The outbreak at the Pittsfield church was one of three new virus outbreaks the Maine CDC reported Monday.
Another five cases have been connected to basketball play at the Midcoast Athletics Center in Warren. And seven cases have been detected at the Sandy River Center nursing home in Farmington, Shah said.
Nursing homes are at particular risk for new virus cases as the communities around them see more transmission of the virus. The Farmington nursing home is the third long-term care facility to report a new outbreak in recent days.