More than a dozen COVID-19 cases are potentially tied to a weeklong Bible school for children at a church in Mattawamkeag, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Fourteen reported cases prompted an investigation into a suspected outbreak at the Vacation Bible School program at Zion Pentecostal Church, Maine CDC spokesperson Robert Long said Tuesday.
The investigation began late last week, and a CDC investigator is waiting for church staff to return messages, Long said.
A number of Maine churches became the sites of COVID-19 outbreaks in Maine at the height of the pandemic last year. But the outbreaks subsided as COVID-19 cases fell with the mass availability of vaccinations. Now, COVID-19 cases are rising again, with the more infectious delta variant responsible for more than half of Maine’s cases last month.
Unvaccinated people are especially susceptible to the delta variant.
About two-thirds of Mattawamkeag residents were at least partially vaccinated as of July 26, according to Maine CDC data. That compares to 83 percent of residents in Bangor. Mattawamkeag is a town of fewer than 700 residents that is located about an hour north of Bangor.
A representative for the church did not respond to a request for comment Tuesday.
The Vacation Bible School was open to children as young as 3 and as old as eighth grade, according to church Facebook posts. The program took place nightly from July 19-23 and included a final church service on July 25, the Facebook posts show.
Several videos show the church crowded with congregants, including children too young to be eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine, interacting without masks.
The church also was encouraging as many people as possible to participate.
A post from July 19 said that there were 68 kids and 44 adults at that night’s session. Another from the next day challenged congregants to bring more than 100 children to one of the Vacation Bible School nights. The school had 78 children that night, and 87 on July 21.
The award for reaching 100 kids in attendance at a session was for the church’s pastor to be pied in the face — something that occurred on July 23.