A wedding in Millinocket, Maine has now been linked to at least 134 new coronavirus cases and one death after the virus spread to jails and hospitals in the state, health authorities announced Tuesday.
The wedding, held Aug. 7, had 65 attendees, which is above the state’s limit of 50. COVID-19 spread among the guests — and later, among others who did not attend the wedding.
The positive cases include 56 of the wedding’s guests “as well as their secondary and tertiary contacts,” Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Nirav Shah said Tuesday.
A secondary contact of a wedding guest, a nursing home staffer, became infected, leading to 11 more staffers and guests at the nursing home to test positive for the virus.
A staff member at York County Jail in Alfred, Maine who attended the wedding also contracted the coronavirus, spreading it to 18 additional staffers, five of their family members and 38 inmates at the jail.
The current number of infections linked to the wedding has more than doubled since last week, when the Maine CDC said the total had risen to 53, with 30 cases in people who attended the wedding, 13 secondary cases and 10 tertiary cases. The health agency had initially reported on Aug. 17 that the wedding had led to 24 infections.
On Aug. 21, a woman who was not at the wedding but was infected by someone who had attended died from the virus, health authorities said, according to the Portland Press Herald.
“Our thoughts and sympathies are with her family as they cope with this difficult loss,” the head of Millinocket Regional Hospital, where she was treated, said in a press release shared on Facebook.
The wedding ceremony was at a church in East Millinocket, with the post-wedding dinner held at the nearby Big Moose Inn. The CDC cited the Big Moose Inn for an “imminent health hazard” and is investigating further to see if guests were wearing masks, as well as whether Big Moose Inn required them as mandated by the state’s COVID-19 regulations.
In a statement shared with PEOPLE, the owner of the Big Moose Inn, Laurie Cormier, acknowledged the inn's error in exceeding the number of people allowed and said they have been "further enhancing our sanitization measures" since the outbreak. The establishment initially had its license removed, but it has since been reinstated.
The statement said staff split the wedding guests between two rooms in order to comply with the rule that stated they could have no more than 50 people in their largest room, but made "an error in the interpretation of that rule."
"Our interpretation was that we could take a wedding party of more than 50 persons, and split them between two rooms as long as it didn’t exceed our total capacity or a specific room’s capacity," Cormier said. "The State – perhaps, rightfully so – assumes that individuals from a larger group would ignore the room restrictions, and take the opportunity to co-mingle. Our interpretation of the rule put the Big Moose Inn in violation of the gathering of people over the maximum number allowed by Maine DECD guidelines."
There is no financial penalty for the citation, but there may be if the Maine CDC discovers further violations. The CDC warned against holding weddings during the pandemic.
“Social gatherings such as weddings and receptions pose an elevated risk for virus transmission. The possibility of COVID-19 transmission increases as the number of attendees increases, even when some attendees are indoors and others are outdoors,” they said.
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