Maine health officials announced on Thursday that they have suspended the health license of a Millinocket inn that hosted a wedding reception that spawned a COVID-19 outbreak that has infected 87 people, caused one death and spread to two other locations.

Health and Human Services Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said that a return site visit to the Big Moose Inn by health officials revealed that the inn still wasn’t complying with state guidelines for operating safely.

“There are deadly consequences associated with uncontrolled gatherings,” Lambrew said. So far, 87 people who attended the wedding reception or were secondary or tertiary contacts of wedding attendees have fallen ill from COVID-19, including one death. The outbreak – one of the largest in the state since the pandemic began in March – has spread to the York County Jail and a nursing home in Madison.

“We have suspended the license for the Big Moose Inn,” Lambrew said. “We are working with the Big Moose Inn to bring them into compliance. The goal of all of our enforcement tools is less about punishment and more about prevention.”

The owner of the inn, identified in records at the Secretary of State’s Office as Laurie Cormier, could not be reached for comment Thursday. No one at the business has commented publicly or responded to telephone or email messages since the outbreak.

The inn was originally cited for allowing an indoors gathering of more than 50 people at the reception, which was attended by about 65 people. There also was minimal mask-wearing, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention said.

In the citation dated Wednesday, a health inspector who visited that day found that Big Moose Inn employees were not wearing face coverings, tables were not at least 6 feet apart and there was “no social distancing during this extreme public health emergency.”

The license suspension could last 30 days or longer, depending on when the Big Moose Inn complies with its terms. The inn cannot legally operate until the suspension is lifted.

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine CDC, said The Big Moose Inn’s Aug. 7 wedding reception created just the right conditions for the virus to spread, with people who were contagious in a large indoor gathering where people were not wearing masks or physically distancing.

When you go into a situation like that a lot of cases can turn out to be even more,” Shah said. “It can spiral. That 80-plus cases can keep growing and growing and growing.”

But Shah said on the positive side, health officials reacted as quickly as they could to conduct mass testing, isolate those who were contagious and people with whom they had close contact. If successful, the strategy could keep the outbreak from spreading further.

Of the 87 cases connected to the reception, 30 attended the reception, and there were 35 secondary cases and 22 tertiary cases. Included in the totals are 18 cases at the York County Jail and nine at Maplecrest Rehabilitation and Living Center in Madison.

Shah said a guest at the wedding infected a parent, who then had close contact with the guest’s sibling, who works at Maplecrest. One of the York County Jail’s staff attended the wedding, which led to the infections at the jail in Alfred, Shah said.

Other people were also present at the Big Moose Inn on the day of the wedding reception, including Rich Zaker, a high school teacher from New Hampshire. He told the Press Herald this week that there was little mask wearing or social distancing at the inn.

“It seems like they were pretty irresponsible,” he said. “They played fast and loose with a lot of people’s safety.”

The state initially served the inn with an “imminent health hazard” citation on Aug. 20, which at the time served as a warning and carried no penalty.

The citation listed three violations: failure to implement measures to maintain 6-foot distancing, exceeding the maximum number of people allowed for an indoor gathering and failure to ask customers for contact information in the event of an outbreak.

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