Two dozen Maine residents tested positive for the coronavirus after a wedding reception in Millinocket -- the state's first outbreak linked to a social gathering, officials said Monday.
Eighteen people who attended the Aug. 7 reception and six others who had close contact with attendees subsequently tested positive, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control. But its director, Dr. Nirav Shah, cautioned that those numbers could rise as test results came back to the state and indicated that a local hospital had already identified 28 coronavirus cases.
All told, about 65 people attended the indoor event at the Big Moose Inn, said Maine CDC spokesman Robert Long.
The governor's executive orders put in place during the global pandemic limit indoor gatherings to 50 people if there's adequate space, while 100 people are allowed at outdoor events. Attendees should also follow physical distancing guidelines and wear masks while not eating.
The Maine CDC was communicating with Big Moose Inn about the nature of the event and adherence to state requirements. Gov. Janet Mills' executive orders allow for a fine of up to $10,000, her spokeswoman said.
Big Moose Inn has not said anything about the event as of Tuesday and Shah said the CDC investigation was just beginning. He did not have many specifics to share about how well the business was adhering to state mandates on COVID-19 safety for venues hosting large gatherings of people.
“That is one of the questions we’re looking into,” he said.
Shah specified that all of the people who tested positive are Maine residents and none have been hospitalized.
Millinocket Town Manager John Davis said Monday that he didn't have all the details about the outbreak, but said there was enough concern to close town hall and local schools as a precaution.
"We didn't want to take any chances,'' he said.
It was the first outbreak tied to a specific social event in Maine, where most previous outbreaks have been tied to workplaces or congregant care settings, Long said Monday.
The outbreak has already affected other people beyond the reception in Millinocket.
Millinocket Regional Hospital has said its suspended all elective surgeries and postponed all appointments and procedures that can be pushed back safely. A local Elks lodge has closed and banks and credit unions have shut down their lobbies.
“Until we have better information and the details we need, we’re airing on the side of caution and making sure we’re putting the safety and health of our members and our staff as the major priority here,” said Alaina Daisey, chief financial officer of Katahdin Federal Credit Union.
The unknowns include details about other places the wedding attendees went both before and after the reception and if the outbreak originated there or somewhere else.
As for future weddings, Maine officials have no immediate plans to update guidance on masks, sanitizer or distancing at weddings specifically.
Under Mills' executive orders on COVID-19, weddings are not considered different than other large gatherings, which are believed to be working.
“We don’t have specific wedding guidance on our checklist,” said Jeanne Lambrew, commissioner of Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services.
She went on to say, “We think our guidance for gatherings has worked well” based on Maine’s case data over the summer.
In Maine, more than 4,200 people have contracted the virus, including 16 additional cases reported on Tuesday. The number of deaths remained unchanged at 127 on Tuesday, the Maine CDC said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.