Maine reported 42 new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, while an outbreak linked to a Waldo County church continued to grow.

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said at an afternoon news briefing that the outbreak related to Brooks Pentecostal Church has increased from 46 cases to 49.

Also on Thursday, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services launched the $5 million StrengthenME campaign, which provides resources to Mainers who are feeling stress or anxiety from the pandemic.

The campaign will be a collaboration between state government and a “coalition of community organizations to offer free stress management, wellness and resiliency resources,” DHHS said in a news release.

The state has also set up a hotline for people to call if they need support. The number, (207) 221-8198, is in operation seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

“The stress of the global pandemic at the local level – on individuals, families and communities is real,” said Jeanne Lambrew, Maine’s health and human services commissioner, who participated in Thursday’s briefing.

Among the new cases reported, nine were in York County, six in Waldo County, five in Cumberland County and five in Kennebec County.

After subtracting previously reported cases that were listed as probable but turned out to be negative after testing, the net number of new cases in Maine was 37.

A woman walks past a display window at Longfellow Books in Portland’s Monument Square on Wednesday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

The outbreak stemming from services at Brooks Pentecostal Church grew from 17 cases over the weekend to 49 on Thursday. Fellowship gatherings that involved Brooks Pentecostal and other churches from Oct. 2-4 ignored the Mills administration’s executive orders designed to protect public health during a pandemic, which included limiting indoor crowds to less than 50, wearing masks in indoor public places and social distancing by keeping 6 feet apart.

About 100 to 150 attended the events in early October, including parishioners from the Quaker Hill Christian Church in Unity and the Charleston Church and Faith Bible College in Charleston.

In addition, Brooks Pentecostal in early October held its own church services attended by 70 to 100 people, and public health rules were also ignored during those services, according to the Maine CDC.

While the agency is still tracking the outbreak and cases are expected to grow, it has yet to generate as many cases as a wedding and reception in the Millinocket area in August, which has been linked to more than 175 cases and eight deaths across the state. The geographic footprint of the outbreak in Waldo County is more confined, so far.

Within roughly the same time frame as the Waldo County outbreak – about two-and-a-half weeks after the initial cases – the Millinocket-area outbreak had grown to 60 cases and had been linked to further outbreaks in two other locations, the York County Jail and a Madison nursing home.

Cases connected to the church outbreak have been found at nearby public schools and at Bayview Manor, an assisted living center in Searsport. Bayview Manor completed a round of universal testing of all its staff and residents and found no additional cases, according to the Maine CDC.

When asked to compare what the Maine CDC has learned about controlling outbreaks in October compared to August, Shah said it’s hard to pinpoint any major breakthroughs. But he said state contact tracers and disease investigators are constantly learning new and better ways to respond, that taken together – “in the aggregate” – the refinements they make improve the response.

Since the pandemic began, 6,064 people in Maine have been infected with COVID-19, and 146 have died. There were no additional deaths reported on Thursday.

The seven-day average of daily new cases stood at 37, compared to 31 two weeks ago and 30.3 a month ago. Also on Thursday, the Maine Department of Corrections reported one employee at the Maine Correctional Center in Windham had tested positive for  COVID-19. Earlier in the week, the corrections department recorded a case involving a staff member at the Maine State Prison in Warren.

Hospitalizations remained low, with seven currently hospitalized, and no one in intensive care.

The seven-day positivity rate – which reflects the percentage of tests returned positive – on Thursday was 0.53. The rate has hovered between 0.5 and 0.6 percent over the past month.

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