A wedding in the Maine countryside has become a coronavirus “superspreader” event that has left seven people dead and 177 infected, renewing the fear of disease in the northeastern US state that hoped the worst of the pandemic was behind.
65 people attended the wedding in early August, breaking the official limit of 50 allowed for a gathering.
A church ceremony was followed by a reception at the Big Moose Inn, both locations near the quaint town of Millinocket, whose population is only 4,000.
Ten days later, two dozen people associated with marriage had tested positive for Covid-19 and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Maine opened an investigation.
The center’s local director, Nirav Shah, gave the latest toll for the event on Thursday, adding that none of the seven people who died had actually attended the wedding.
Contact detectors linked the marriage to several virus hotspots across the state, including more than 80 cases in a prison 230 miles (370 kilometers) away where one of the guards attended the ceremony.
Another 10 probable cases were found in a Baptist church in the same area, while 39 infections – and six of the deaths – occurred in a nursing home 100 miles from Millinocket.
For the community and the region at large, which had introduced looser social distancing rules introduced at the start of the crisis, the news was a brutal wake-up call.
“When we heard about the outbreak … everyone really squatted down,” said Cody McEwen, head of the city council.
“As soon as the epidemic happened, we closed the city completely again.”
– Recriminations –
Some of the residents were clearly angry with the organizers of the event, starting with the tavern, whose license has been temporarily suspended.
“I don’t think they should have celebrated the wedding. I think it should have been limited as they should have been,” said Nina Obrikis, a member of the Baptist church where the ceremony took place.
“We can’t go anywhere or do nothing,” he said.
Maine Governor Janet Mills on Thursday issued a warning to 1.3 million residents in the state.
Such flares “threaten to undo the gains we’ve made in the blink of an eye,” he said.
“Covid-19 isn’t on the other side of the fence, it’s in our backyards.”
Since the start of the pandemic earlier this year, similar super-spread events have been reported around the world.
The first in the United States was a biotechnology conference in Boston in February attended by about 175 people and a funeral in Georgia, where more than 100 people contracted the virus.
In recent weeks, such clusters of infections have been seen on college campuses, forcing students to be sent home.
Oneonta University in upstate New York had more than 670 confirmed Covid cases in one month.
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