A Pentecostal church in Jonesport is the latest addition to a growing list of Maine churches that have recorded COVID-19 outbreaks amid a statewide spike in virus cases.
Nine coronavirus cases have been connected to the Pentecostals of Jonesport church in Washington County, Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Nirav Shah said Monday. In a Facebook post last week, the church said it had canceled all services until Wednesday, due to rising case numbers Down East and would re-evaluate the service schedule then.
The outbreak there follows recent outbreaks at Pentecostal churches in Pittsfield and Brooks and at Baptist churches in Calais and Manchester. The Maine CDC is also investigating two new outbreaks in southern Maine: nine COVID-19 cases tied to Ruby’s Wood Grill in York and three at a Portland Pie Co. location in Windham.
The COVID-19 situation in Maine has worsened significantly in recent weeks, with the surge leading the state to continue setting records for new daily cases. The state’s positivity rate — the percentage of coronavirus tests coming back positive, which is a sign of how actively the virus is spreading — has more than tripled in the past two weeks, Shah said. On Monday, the state’s average positivity rate over the past seven days was 2.14 percent, up from 0.66 percent two weeks before, he said.
One of the state’s largest ongoing outbreaks is at Russell Park Rehabilitation and Living Center in Lewiston, which has now detected 72 COVID-19 cases — 45 among residents and 27 among staff. Increased spread of the coronavirus in communities where nursing homes are located raises the risk that the virus will find its way into those facilities.
Maine colleges and universities, which have seen some of the lowest coronavirus case numbers among their counterparts across the country, have also seen a spike in cases recently, particularly University of Maine System institutions. Three of them — the University of Southern Maine, with campuses in Portland and Gorham; the University of Maine School of Law in Portland; and the University of Maine at Presque Isle — temporarily switched to all-remote instruction on Friday amid new cases, but had resumed in-person classes by Monday.
The university system recorded 33 active cases among students and employees as of Monday, with the University of Maine at Machias the only campus without a documented case. Five students who live in residence halls had tested positive and were in isolation. The largest portion of cases at UMaine in Orono were 13 among administrative staff at the university’s facilities management office.
“We are concerned with the latest increase in cases, not just for the numbers, but also the geographic spread. We’ve started to see cases in college campuses across the state, which, up until very recently, have not seen very many at all,” Shah said.
Some of the spread on college campuses, Shah said, have been because of parties, prompting a message from the CDC director that college students “do the right thing” and avoid such gatherings.
None of the University of Maine System’s 33 active cases are known to be associated with student gatherings, said Dan Demeritt, a system spokesperson. Earlier in the semester, UMaine suspended a student and disciplined seven others as part of a crackdown on student parties at the start of the fall semester.
Maine’s universities are about two weeks away from the end of the in-person portion of the fall semester, with students set to switch to all remote classes after Thanksgiving.