In this Aug. 21, 2019, file photo, a car drives along the entrance road to Calais Regional Hospital. Credit: Bill Trotter / BDN

Maine has identified four new outbreaks of COVID-19, including one that has infected six employees at Calais Regional Hospital and three others at a church, gym and physical therapy business in the Augusta area.

The outbreak at the Calais hospital comes as it has aggressively ramped up virus testing in recent weeks as COVID-19 cases in Washington County have been on a steep rise. Calais has also seen an outbreak of 27 cases connected to the Second Baptist Church, and the coastal county has seen one of the sharpest rises of new cases of any Maine county in recent weeks.

Hospital spokesperson Dee Dee Travis said the workers caught the virus because it was spreading in the community and did not transmit it to any patients. She said that the hospital has offered testing to staff and their family members, implemented heightened screening measures and followed other public health guidance.

“It was contained to a small number and small area of the hospital. There was no transmission in clinical locations,” Travis said. “At this point the transmission seems to have been contained with the measures we have taken. However there are still some tests pending for family members who would be considered a secondary exposure if found positive.”

Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said the agency was still investigating whether the virus may have spread between people while they were inside or outside the hospital, as the agency does during all investigations of workplace outbreaks. He noted that with the increased prevalence of the virus in Washington County, it’s possible the workers could have caught it in the community.

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The state has also identified five cases tied to Hope Baptist Church in Manchester, three in patrons of CrossFit Undaunted in Augusta and three in workers at Advanced Health Physical Therapy and Fitness in Augusta, according to Shah. 

The outbreak at Hope Baptist Church in Manchester is the fourth church-related outbreak the state has seen within the past month after churches in Brooks, Calais and Pittsfield. The church said in an Oct. 31 post on its Facebook page that it was canceling in-person services for the next two weeks, including a trick-or-treating event, as more church members tested positive for COVID-19, even as they didn’t know how they contracted it. A church representative didn’t immediately respond to a voicemail on Wednesday.

Ray Bouchard, the owner of Advanced Health in Augusta, said that the workers at the physical therapy practice who tested positive have all been isolating in their homes and that other workers have tested negative for the virus. The business is open this week after disinfecting all of its surfaces and following Maine CDC guidelines, Bouchard said.

Nicholas Beal, the owner of CrossFit Undaunted, said that a member of the gym tested positive for COVID-19 after learning that someone with whom they had recently gone on a hunting trip had also tested positive. That person was not showing any symptoms, Beal said, and two additional cases were identified after he reached out to all the people who had been in that person’s class to advise them to isolate for two weeks or get tested. He said members of the gym normally exercise in grids about 14 feet from each other, and that he’s not sure whether the virus was spread there or out in the community. 

The new outbreaks come as new cases of the coronavirus have spiked to record levels in Maine over the last week, with the virus now spreading across virtually the whole state. Some of that transmission has been through outbreaks, but a growing portion of it has been among people who are not connected to known outbreaks.

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On Wednesday, Maine crossed the threshold of 7,000 total cases since the start of the pandemic. That happened just two weeks after the state crossed the 6,000-case threshold, in a sign of how much more rapidly the virus has been circulating in Maine. Before then, it took about a month for the state’s total case count to rise by 1,000.

In addition to the growing number of new daily cases, Maine’s COVID-19 test positivity rate has nearly tripled over the past two weeks, with the percentage of tests coming back positive rising to an average of 1.3 percent over the past seven days on Wednesday from 0.5 percent two weeks ago.

The increased spread of the virus is being felt throughout the state. In Bangor, for example, Frank’s Bakery and Custom Catering has temporarily closed after an employee tested positive. The same recently happened at the Thurston. Co, a restaurant in Blue Hill, according to its Facebook page.

Also in Bangor, the school department sent notices to parents Tuesday and Wednesday alerting them that people at four city schools — Bangor High, William S. Cohen, Abraham Lincoln and Fruit Street — had come into contact with someone who had tested positive for COVID-19 and were quarantining. There are no confirmed cases in any Bangor schools, Kathy Harris-Smedberg, the interim superintendent, wrote to parents.

And the Maine CDC closed its office in Augusta to the public on Wednesday after learning that one of its workers tested positive for COVID-19 on Tuesday.

BDN reporter Eesha Pendharkar contributed to this piece.

Correction: An earlier version of this story had the incorrect name of the Augusta gym where a member tested positive.

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