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How 1 Maine Wedding Caused Hundreds Of Coronavirus Cases And 7 Deaths


The wedding reception took place last month in a rural part of Maine. It had a guest list of about 60 people. The number of coronavirus infections later traced to that wedding is nearly triple that number. It's also been linked to seven deaths. It's now clear that that wedding, held indoors in violation of state rules, was a so-called superspreader event. Dr. Nirav Shah is director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. He laid out for us what contact tracers have learned.

NIRAV SHAH: There have now been approximately 177 total cases associated with that wedding. The bulk of those cases now have been among people who did not attend the August 7 wedding itself. Sadly, the seven individuals who have passed away with COVID-19 - none of those individuals themselves attended the wedding. This is really emblematic of how quietly, quickly and aggressively COVID-19 can spread even across disparate geographies across a state.

PFEIFFER: So how did it cascade and widen in this way?

SHAH: Some of the individuals who attended the event themselves had linkages to other areas where COVID-19 is possible to gain a foothold and take off. One individual was connected with another person who happened to work at a nursing facility. The person who attended the event passed it on to another person. That person worked at a nursing facility. And as a result of that, there have now been nearly 40 cases at a nursing facility, a highly vulnerable population.

Similarly, another person who happened to attend happens to work at a county jail 200 miles away. But jails, being areas where individuals do not have a lot of ability to move, themselves can become opportunities for widespread transmission. So in this situation, it was a unfortunate storm where individuals had linkages with these other areas where spread could happen after an initial foothold.

PFEIFFER: The pastor who officiated this wedding in Maine is from York County, which is now home to Maine's biggest coronavirus outbreak. Have you found a link between the wedding and the cases in York County, where I believe he continues to hold services?

SHAH: We have. We have identified a link between the events of the August 7 wedding and an initial outbreak that occurred at the jail in York County. We have also subsequently identified that other individuals who are congregants at a church in York County where this pastor happens to be the pastor also attended the August 7 wedding. So we have identified those subsequent linkages. Right now, our focus is trying to make sure we identify potential positive cases associated with this ongoing outbreak before we think about what our other next steps may be.

PFEIFFER: Summer is coming to a close. Maine is going to be getting very cold very soon and possibly staying cold very long. What's your advice to people in Maine as they have to head indoors for the winter in terms of staying safe during coronavirus and flu seasons?

SHAH: Social dynamics will change as we go into colder months. We are likely to lose some of the protective effect that being outdoors has. That is an unfortunate consequence of the changing of the seasons. We have an opportunity to keep a lid on COVID by recommending that folks continue with those gatherings because we want that socializing to continue.

But doing things like wearing face coverings indoors - that will be a challenge because a lot of times, the last thing you want to be doing when you're watching a movie with your friends at home is have a face covering on. But what we've seen is that it is in those settings where we're indoors, where there is not as much ventilation and people are in close proximity that COVID-19 can take hold.

PFEIFFER: Doctor Nirav Shah is director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Thank you for coming on the program.

SHAH: Thank you very much, Sacha. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.