A wedding in rural Maine turned into a coronavirus “superspreader” event, killing seven people and infecting 177. This renewed the fear of the disease in the northeastern US state that had been hoping the worst pandemic was behind it.
65 people attended the wedding at the beginning of August, which exceeded the official limit of 50 people allowed at a gathering.
A church ceremony was followed by a reception at the Big Moose Inn – both venues near the quaint town of Millinocket, with a population of just 4,000.
Ten days later, two dozen people associated with the wedding 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 final tribute to the event on Thursday, adding that none of the seven deceased actually attended the wedding.
Contact tracers linked the wedding to several virus hotspots across the state – including more than 80 cases in a prison 370 kilometers away where one of the guards attended the ceremony.
Another 10 likely cases were found in a Baptist church in the same area, while 39 infections – and six of the deaths – were in a nursing home 100 miles from Millinocket.
The news was a brutal wake-up call for the community and region as a whole, which had laid loose rules for social distancing at the start of the crisis.
“When we heard about the outbreak … everyone really crouched together,” said Cody McEwen, city council director.
“As soon as the outbreak happened, we closed the city completely again.”
– Accusations –
Some of the residents were visibly annoyed with the organizers of the event – starting with the tavern, whose license was temporarily suspended.
“I don’t think they should have had the wedding. I think it should have been limited as they should,” said Nina Obrikis, a member of the Baptist Church where the ceremony was held.
“We have nowhere to go or do nothing,” she said.
Maine Governor Janet Mills warned the state’s 1.3 million residents Thursday.
Such spurts “threaten to undo the gains we made in one fell swoop,” she said.
“Covid-19 isn’t on the other side of the fence, it’s in our yards.”
Similar superspreader events have been reported around the world since the pandemic began earlier this year.
The first in the US was a biotech conference in Boston in February, attended by around 175 people, and a funeral in Georgia, at which more than 100 people contracted the virus.
In recent weeks, such clusters of infections have been observed on university campuses, forcing students to be sent home.
The University of Oneonta in north New York had confirmed more than 670 Covid cases in one month.
str-cat / la / jh / kaf
Video: Pandemic Makes Relief Work For Wildfire Evacuees (CBS Sacramento)
Click to expand