A woman died of COVID-19 on Friday after contracting the illness from someone who attended a crowded wedding reception in Millinocket on Aug. 7.

Millinocket Regional Hospital said Friday that a woman who had been admitted to the hospital after developing COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, died early Friday afternoon.

The hospital did not identify the woman and a spokesman said Friday that she had contracted the coronavirus from someone who attended the reception on Aug. 7, but did not attend it herself.

On Thursday, state officials issued an “imminent health hazard” citation against Big Moose Inn for hosting the reception, which was attended by 65 people. State rules limit indoor gatherings to 50 people.

The citation does not come with any fine, but the inn could be fined or face temporary license suspensions if state officials determine they violate health rules again.

The hospital said it has tested 366 people who attended the reception or came in contact with those who did. The hospital said it has gotten results back on 263 of the tests and the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday that 32 have tested positive for COVID-19. The hospital said it is still waiting for results on 103 tests.

Those who tested positive were contacted, the hospital said, provided instructions on their care and told to quarantine themselves.

A woman who answered the phone at Big Moose Inn Friday night said she had no comment and that the inn was contacting a lawyer.

The Maine CDC on Friday reported 34 new cases of COVID-19, the highest daily total in three weeks.

With the death of the woman in Millinocket, Maine has now had 129 COVID-19 related deaths.

There have now been 4,285 confirmed or probable cases in the state since the pandemic reached Maine in mid-March. Of that total, 3,698 individuals have recovered, leaving 458 active cases, an increase of 12 from the previous day.

Cases have been steadily rising over the last week. The seven-day average has increased from 15 cases on Aug. 11 to 25 on Friday. The last time daily cases exceeded 30 was on July 30.

Hospitalizations, however, remain low in Maine. As of Thursday, there were just seven people hospitalized and only one in intensive care.

It wasn’t clear how many, if any, of the new cases Friday are associated with the Millinocket wedding outbreak. Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah said Thursday that the state had cited the Big Moose Inn for hosting the reception in violation of state crowd-size mandates. No one from the facility has commented publicly about the outbreak.

Other recent outbreaks include one at the York County Sheriff’s Office. Sheriff William L. King Jr. said Friday the office has received 101 test results and now has nine positive results. “We continue to work with CDC to address this latest challenge,” King said in a written statement.

The rise in cases in Maine is still small compared to other states, but it comes at a time when schools will soon be reopening, at least partially. Cumberland, York and Androscoggin counties still account for more than 80 percent of cases, although Penobscot County has seen a sharp rise over the last week, likely tied to the outbreak in Millinocket.

One of the keys to keeping outbreaks from spreading is contact tracing – state officials determine all the people who have come into contact with a positive case and then ask those individuals to isolate for at least 10 days. In May, the state launched an online tracking program called Sara Alert that has enrolled 3,937 people so far. As of this week, 339 people were actively being monitored.

Maine also has made progress on testing. The state’s overall positivity rate, a percentage of all tests that come back positive, is now 2.28 percent and below 1 percent over the last week. The national rate is about 8 percent.

The Maine Department of Health and Human Services on Thursday announced that the state is further expanding its “swab and send” testing sites. A new partnership with MaineHealth will add five locations – Brunswick, Damariscotta, Norway, Rockport and Farmington – to the 22 previously announced locations. The “swab and send” sites allow people, without a doctor’s prescription, to get tested and have results within 48 hours.

The 27 sites are within a 30-minute drive of 90 percent of the state’s population.

Also Thursday, Maine Gov. Janet Mills launched a $200 million coronavirus relief fund for small businesses harmed by the pandemic.

“Those small businesses are truly the backbone of our economy and the lifeblood of all our communities,” she said at a news conference Thursday. “We can’t let them fail.”

 

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