A coronavirus outbreak at a rural Maine church has infected dozens of people, authorities said, and an investigation that originally centered around the church has found more cases in area schools.
On Wednesday, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention advised in a release that "individuals who spent any time at the Brooks Pentecostal Church or Lighthouse Christian Academy since October 2, 2020, should monitor for symptoms of COVID-19."
Anyone who attended a fellowship event hosted at the congregation between Oct. 2 and 4 may have been exposed to the virus, the agency said. Masks were available but not routinely used, Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah has said.
By Thursday, investigators had found 49 cases of COVID-19 linked to the church. There have been cases associated with the outbreak at three Waldo County public schools.
The Maine CDC said it has also identified a case that might be associated with the church outbreak at Bayview Manor, a residential care facility in Searsport. The case involves a staff member. The facility has completed a round of testing and has not found additional cases, the agency said.
NECN/NBC10 Boston called the church for comment but there was no answer and a voicemail box there was full.
On Wednesday, Brooks Pentecostal Church pastor Matthew Shaw posted a statement on Facebook, saying in part:
I would like to express sadness over the resulting sickness that has been spread by the virus. Our church has been following quarantine measures since before any positive tests were reported. We continue to diligently encourage any that are symptomatic or feel as though they need to be tested, to test. Though the origin of the virus is unclear, we will be addressing all recommendations and guidelines provided to us by the CDC. Our church will be addressing our continuity of worship in a safe and orderly manner.
Asked about the church's level of cooperation with Maine CDC, Shah said Thursday that Maine CDC has "been working closely with the church. We've got more to go, more of a road ahead of us."
In Brooks itself, a town of just 1,100 or so people 45 minutes east of Waterville by car, residents said the pandemic's sudden arrival at their doorstep was somewhat alarming.
"In Brooks, we don't really think about COVID. It's sort of like a different world," said Gabriel Baldwin, who was dropping off forms at the town office on Thursday, explaining that he now may visit stores in the area less frequently.
Linda Lord, a Brooks selectman, said it's "made many of my friends more cautious" and "many of us have gone to have COVID tests just to be on the safe side."
Lord explained the town itself had not taken any steps to tighten COVID-19 rules in Brooks after the outbreak but was "trusting people to do the right thing" by observing state and federal public health guidance.
"People know what the right thing is, there's been so much out about it the past few months and since March," she said.
A food co-op in town has accelerated a timeline to more formally enforce mask wearing inside its storefront.
Both Baldwin and Lord said there was a feeling in town to not cast blame but instead encourage people to stop the virus from spreading further.
"A big fear that I have is we'll turn people into pariahs," said Baldwin, adding that "no one that got COVID wanted to get it."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.