The Maine Whoopie Pie Festival in downtown Dover-Foxcroft in 2019. Credit: Stuart Hedstrom / Piscataquis Observer

The Maine Whoopie Pie Festival has been canceled again this year due to a surge in COVID-19 cases in Piscataquis County, making it the latest large fall gathering to be canceled due to virus concerns.

In recent weeks, Piscataquis County, where the festival celebrating the official Maine State Treat is held, has emerged as one of the most COVID-stricken counties in Maine. 

The decision to cancel this year’s festival came after discussions with Northern Light Health, which runs Piscataquis County’s two hospitals, said Patrick Myers, the executive director of the Center Theatre in Dover-Foxcroft. The Center Theatre has hosted the pie festival every year since its 2009 inauguration, and the festival is a fundraiser for the non-profit theater. 

“We have been watching the steep increase in cases in our community,” Myers said. “After discussing the conditions with Northern Light Mayo Hospital, the Center Theatre board of directors decided that the only responsible decision was to cancel the festival,” he said. 

The venue had hoped to host this year’s festival, set to take place Oct. 2, at the Piscataquis Valley Fairgrounds to allow for social distancing. The festival normally takes place in the summer, but last year’s event was held virtually in the fall due to the pandemic. 

Northern Light officials blamed the delta variant for the decision to urge that the festival be canceled. 

“In recent weeks, our numbers have exceeded the surge we saw last January,” said Northern Light Mayo Hospital president Marie Vienneau. “It is more important now than ever that we remain vigilant by avoiding large group gatherings, masking when indoors, and considering vaccination.” 

Piscataquis County recently has recorded the state’s highest rate of new COVID-19 cases, as well as the state’s highest positivity rate for coronavirus tests. The positivity rate is an indicator of how widely the virus is spreading in a particular area.

Northern Light Mayo Hospital in Dover-Foxcroft went from having zero COVID patients to four in as many days this week. As of Wednesday, 10 percent of COVID-19 tests in Piscataquis County had come back positive over the past two weeks, according to the New York Times’ coronavirus tracker

Piscataquis County also has the second lowest vaccination rate in the state after neighboring Somerset County. Some 52.7 percent of the population is inoculated, according to Maine CDC data, compared with 63 percent statewide. 

Neighboring Penobscot County has also seen a virus surge recently, breaking its single-day record for new cases with 159 reported on Wednesday. 

Lia Russell

Lia Russell is a reporter on the city desk for the Bangor Daily News. Send tips to LRussell@bangordailynews.com.