The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention is investigating a coronavirus outbreak at a Waldo County church, possibly linked to a “fellowship rally” that the congregation held between Oct. 2 and 4.
Brooks Pentecostal Church in Brooks has at least 17 cases of COVID-19 among its worshippers, the health agency said. The news of the church outbreak came as Maine reported 29 new cases of COVID-19 statewide on Sunday and no additional deaths.
The outbreak at the church in Brooks is the second outbreak reported by a church in Maine since the pandemic started. In August, at least 10 members of the Calvary Baptist Church in Sanford tested positive for COVID-19 after the church’s pastor, Todd Bell, officiated at a Millinocket wedding that CDC officials say has been linked to more than 100 cases of people contracting COVID-19.
Bell, who continued to hold in-person services with no mask wearing or social distancing in place after the wedding, has hired a high profile lawyer to defend his congregation’s religious liberty rights.
Videos of services that the Brooks Pentecostal Church posted to Facebook indicate that on more than one occasion worshippers have gathered closely together without masks. Contact tracing is underway, and the Maine CDC asked potential contacts of infected people to cooperate.
“Close contacts can help limit potential spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 by answering calls, providing complete information, and quarantining when advised to do so,” the agency said in a news release late Saturday.
Maine’s cumulative cases rose to 5,939 on Sunday, a net increase of 26 cases since Saturday. The official reported number of new cases, 29, is higher than the difference in daily totals because the Maine CDC revises its numbers of cumulative total cases based on how many “probable” cases later test negative, and on the results of contact tracing investigations.
One hundred forty-six people have died with COVID-19 in Maine, and 5,145 have recovered from the disease. Maine had 648 active cases on Sunday.
The CDC is advising anyone who spent time at Brooks Pentecostal Church or its affiliated school since Oct. 2 to monitor for symptoms of COVID-19, which include cough, fever, shortness of breath, fatigue and body aches, among others.
Anyone who attended a fellowship rally that the congregation hosted between Oct. 2 and 4 could have been exposed to the virus and should take precautions, the CDC said.
Some of the church cases were accounted for in new reported cases on Saturday, the agency said, but not all. The CDC’s statewide case counts on Sunday may also include some from Brooks Pentecostal – Waldo County saw 10 new cases in Sunday’s count.
The church’s website and social media pages didn’t display information about the outbreak on Sunday morning. Videos of services posted to Facebook indicate that the church has been conducting in-person worship since at least September, when one video showed congregants gathering close together in the pews, without masks.
The church posted multiple videos Oct. 4, some of which appear to show social distancing in the pews, while other videos from that date feature close, maskless gatherings.
Messages left at the church for pastor Matthew Shaw on Sunday were not returned.
The University of Maine System reported three new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, for a total of six active cases across its eight schools. All three cases were detected at the University of Maine at Augusta, which now has five active cases. The University of Maine in Orono has one active case.
County by county in Maine since the beginning of the pandemic, there have been 832 COVID-19 cases in Androscoggin, 56 in Aroostook, 2,425 in Cumberland, 73 in Franklin, 56 in Hancock, 289 in Kennebec, 59 in Knox, 53 in Lincoln, 157 in Oxford, 273 in Penobscot, 10 in Piscataquis, 77 in Sagadahoc, 127 in Somerset, 112 in Waldo, 20 in Washington, and 1,317 in York.
By age, 12.8 percent of patients were under 20, while 16.4 percent were in their 20s, 15.3 percent were in their 30s, 13.9 percent were in their 40s, 16.1 percent were in their 50s, 11.5 percent were in their 60s, 7.2 percent were in their 70s and 6.8 percent were in their 80s.
Women are still the majority of cases, at just over 51 percent.
Effective Oct. 1, the Maine CDC says it will no longer update hospital capacity data on weekends. On Friday, Maine’s hospitals had 11 patients with COVID-19, of whom five were in intensive care and one was on a ventilator. The state had 93 intensive care unit beds available of a total 382, and 252 ventilators available of 318. There were also 444 alternative ventilators.
Around the world on Sunday, there were 39.7 million known cases of COVID-19 and 1.1 million deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University. The United States had 8.1 million cases and more than 219,000 deaths.