PORTLAND, Maine – At least seven people have died in a coronavirus outbreak that continues to injure people in Maine after a wedding reception held over the summer that violated state virus guidelines, public health officials said.
The wedding reception in August at the Big Moose Inn in Millinocket is linked to more than 175 confirmed cases of the virus, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday.
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Maine authorities have identified overlaps between the wedding reception and outbreaks elsewhere in the state. A York County Jail employee attended the wedding, Maine CDC officials have said. Maine health officials have also said an employee from a Madison Rehabilitation Center, which is the site of six of the seven deaths, attended the event.
Viral cases stemming from the wedding have stretched over hundreds of miles in a condition that had largely controlled the spread of coronavirus through the summer. Maine has reported fewer than 5,000 cases of the virus in total since March.
But the growing number of cases related to the wedding, which exceeded state guidelines for 50 people or less at indoor gatherings, could undo some of this progress if it continues to swell. Authorities have said more than 65 people attended the wedding.
The wedding was also held by Pastor Todd Bell of Calvary Baptist Church in Sanford. The Maine CDC is currently investigating to determine if an outbreak in the church is linked to the wedding outbreak.
Calvary Baptist Church on Tuesday issued a statement saying “a number of members of Calvary Baptist Church attended” the wedding reception. The statement said the church was taking steps to limit the spread of the virus and would defend its right to continue holding services.
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Calvary Baptist Church has a legal right to meet. The authority of a local Christian church, a Jewish synagogue or a Muslim mosque to gather for their respective religious services has been a well-known part of our nation’s history since its inception, ”the statement said. “These religious activities are also fully protected during the first amendment of our U.S. Constitution.”
Bell has been critical of the government’s attempts to control the coronavirus, and videos show he has had services without the use of social distance. He hired a lawyer known nationally to defend the religious rights of churches. Neither Bell nor Gibbs responded to a request for comment Tuesday.
Associated Press author David Sharp contributed to this report.