1 death among 53 coronavirus cases linked to Maine wedding reception

At least 53 cases of the coronavirus have been traced back to an Aug. 7 wedding and reception in Maine that violated attendance limits, state health officials said. A local hospital said Friday one person whose infection has been linked to the event has died.

About 65 people attended the reception at the Big Moose Inn Cabins and Campground in Millinocket, about 70 miles north of Bangor, the Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said. The Maine governor's executive orders limit gatherings to 50 people indoors, 100 people outdoors and fewer if the space cannot accommodate five people per 1,000 feet.

Of the 53 cases linked to the reception, 13 were secondary and 10 were tertiary, Maine CDC spokesman Robert Long told NBC News. In other words, it spread to people who did not attend the wedding or reception, but had close contact with individuals who did.

The inn did not immediately return a request for comment Monday. It was cited for what was called an imminent health hazard, which Long said carries no fine but can result in harsher penalties if state officials determine the venue violated health rules again.

The Big Moose Inn in Millinocket, Maine. (NECN)
The Big Moose Inn in Millinocket, Maine. (NECN)

The outbreak affected individuals from 4 to 98 years old, officials said.

The Maine CDC advises anyone who attended an event at the inn on Aug. 7, and who has symptoms of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, to contact their health care provider.

In a statement Friday, the Millinocket Regional Hospital CEO Robert Peterson said one patient who had been linked to the reception had died. The statement did not identify the patient.

"Our thoughts and sympathies are with her family as they cope with this difficult loss," he said.

The hospital tested 366 people who attended the reception or came in contact with those who did, Peterson said.

All positive patients have been notified, given care instructions, and told to quarantine, the hospital said. Because of the outbreak, the hospital is closed to visitors.

The Maine CDC noted that social gatherings — such as weddings and receptions — pose an elevated risk for virus transmission.

“The possibility of COVID-19 transmission increases as the number of attendees increases, even when some attendees are indoors and others are outdoors," it said in a statement. "This is because outdoor attendees may reasonably be expected to come indoors and interact with others, increasing the possibility of COVID-19 transmission.”

Indoor gatherings pose extra risk compared to outdoor gatherings, because of the challenges of ensuring adequate social distancing and ventilation, the Maine CDC said.

More than a dozen guests who attended a wedding June 20 in The Woodlands, Texas, about an hour outside Houston, tested positive for the coronavirus days later, The New York Times reported this month.

Over the last several months, concerns about the spread of the coronavirus at large gatherings has prompted many couples to cancel or postpone their weddings.

There have been at least 4,356 cases of the coronavirus in Maine as of Monday, with 131 deaths, according to state health data.

People who attend social gatherings should wear face coverings other than when eating or drinking, the Maine CDC said.

The investigation into the reception at the Big Moose Inn is ongoing, health officials said.