Hope Baptist Church, on Thursday in Manchester. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

The number of active COVID-19 cases in Kennebec County has nearly doubled in the last five days, just as information on three outbreaks was released this week by the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention.

The outbreaks have been newly reported in the Augusta area — five cases at Hope Baptist Church in Manchester, three cases at CrossFit Gym in Augusta and three cases at Advanced Health Physical Therapy, also in Augusta.

And on Wednesday, the Maine CDC building in Augusta was closed to the public after an employee tested positive for COVID-19. On Thursday, CDC spokesman Robert Long said the building had reopened to the public and the employee is currently isolating.

Individual cases have also been identified at school districts across the region, including five cases in Augusta Public Schools.

In response to the rising numbers, Gov. Janet Mills on Thursday issued an executive order requiring everyone to wear face masks while in public, regardless of physical distance from other people.

In addition, owners and operators of all indoor public places in Maine are now required to post signs notifying people who want to enter that space that face coverings must be worn — and that they may be denied service or not allowed to enter if they don’t comply.

On Thursday, Susanne Bouchard, the spokesperson and founder of Advanced Health Physical Therapy, a division of Light of Life Ministries in Augusta, said the practice had been given the all-clear to treat clients earlier this week.

“The outbreak happened about three weeks ago, and we decided people should go get tested,” Bouchard said.

Three people in the practice tested positive for COVID-19, Bouchard said. Two were office workers who were not in contact with patients, and the third was a physical therapist who was on vacation at at time. The people around those three went into quarantine for 10 to 14 days as instructed by the CDC.

“Everyone is out of quarantine now,” she said. “We didn’t have reports that patients were affected.”

Bouchard said anyone seeking treatment is screened before they are allowed to enter the facility and the employees are also screened.

As new guidelines are issued, they are reviewed, she said.

“We’re thankful and we’re moving on,” she said.

Hope Baptist Church, on Thursday in Manchester. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

The Rev. Glenn Peterson, senior pastor at Hope Baptist Church, said Thursday that the church has suspended in-person worship for now, and its leadership team was expected to meet Thursday night to consider whether to extend virtual worship.

Following the declaration of the global pandemic in March, the church on Western Avenue, like many other churches, switched to online services as regulations limiting public gatherings were put in place. In June, Peterson said, Hope Baptist shifted to in-person worship when restrictions on public gatherings were relaxed.

Before the global coronavirus pandemic was declared in March, the church drew about 340 people to weekly worship. Since then, he said, the number has dropped off to between 100 and 200.

At the start of a Facebook Live video posted Sunday, associate pastor Travis Armstrong said the church took that step to cancel Sunday’s in-person worship out of an abundance of caution when officials learned several people connected with the church who had been diagnosed with COVID-19 had come in contact with church members.

“We felt it was prudent at this time to cancel our services for the next couple of weeks to make sure everyone is safe,” Armstrong said. “We would encourage you if you have any of those symptoms to check it out with your doctor. But we also encourage you to rise up and be the church.”

In the video, Armstrong noted that during the last seven months, some members were unhappy with the decisions church officials have made

“We will just ask you — and I will say this very politely and frankly — please keep your complaints to yourself and focus on the unity of the church and focus on glorifying God,” he said. “Because God has overcome many, many bigger problems than coronavirus, and we are very confident he is able to do that today.”

Peterson said most of the people who had contracted COVID-19 have recovered; one member who was hospitalized hopes to be released Friday.

“We have hand sanitizer, we’ve done social distancing, we’re seating people in every other row, we’re doing masking, and it happened anyway,” he said.

Peterson said he’ll send an email out to those who regularly worship at Hope Baptist and will post information about the leadership group’s decision on the church’s Facebook page.

A call to the CrossFit Gym was not returned Thursday.

These are not the only outbreaks that have been reported in Kennebec County.

Last spring, the Augusta Center for Health and Rehabilitation in Augusta had an outbreak that sickened 83 people, seven of whom died as a result. At the time, it had been the largest outbreak Maine.

Since then, outbreaks in other Maine counties have overtaken the scope of that one, including one that resulted from a wedding in Millinocket in August that spawned two other outbreaks in the state.

With the daily case counts on the rise, the spread of the virus is now causing some organizations to take a second look at how they do business.

On Tuesday, the Kennebec Valley Humane Society posted that it would be closed for all adoptions and appointments until further notice.

“We hope to re-open on Thursday, November 12th but this is tentative,” the post stated. “Your support is deeply appreciated. Until then, all our animals will be loved and cared for by our dedicated team.”

On Thursday, Hillary Roberts, executive director of the humane society, said the closure is not due to either people or animals being sick.

This pause is to give the organization time to figure out how to continue its operations through the winter months, she said. During the warm months, most of the shelter’s appointments and paperwork could be completed outside. But now that winter is approaching, the staff is looking for another work around.

“We’ve seen the rising number of cases in the community and some people in our circle have tested positive, so we want to make sure we do our part to be stewards and keep our community safe,” Roberts said.

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