Maine health officials on Thursday cited the Big Moose Inn, the location of a wedding reception where a COVID-19 outbreak occurred, with a warning for holding an indoor gathering with more than 50 people.

Executive orders by Gov. Janet Mills aimed at slowing the spread of COVID-19 forbid indoor gatherings of more than 50 people. The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention has reported that about 65 people attended the Aug. 7 wedding reception.

The citation does not carry a financial penalty, but Dr. Nirav Shah, Maine CDC director, said that if there are future violations, a financial penalty or a suspension of the Big Moose Inn’s health license could be in play.

Shah, however, said the Big Moose Inn is cooperating with state health officials, and he does not anticipate future violations.

“Most of the cases have been symptomatic. Eighty-seven percent so far are symptomatic,” Shah said. “We keep our focus on the care and well-being of those who are ill.”

The inn did not respond to a message left by a reporter Thursday afternoon.

Maine reported another death from COVID-19 on Thursday and 20 additional cases. Seventeen more Mainers have recovered from the coronavirus. Since the pandemic began, the Maine CDC has recorded 4,253 COVID-19 cases, with 128 deaths.

The seven-day average number of COVID-19 cases has been rising steadily – from about 15 on Aug. 6 to 24 on Wednesday – but Maine’s cases still remain low compared to other states.

Robert Long, Maine CDC spokesman, said in an email response to a question that state health officials are still determining to what extent, if any, Big Moose Inn ownership informed wedding attendees to wear masks when they were indoors and not drinking or eating.

The number of cases stemming from the wedding has grown from 28 to 32, Shah said, and the investigation is ongoing. One person is hospitalized. Twenty-seven of those who have fallen ill are from Penosbcot County, he said, with the remaining five from Somerset County.

Shah said the Tri-Town Baptist Church in East Millinocket hosted the wedding, but it’s unclear how many of the 65 at the reception were at the church, and it’s not known if Tri-Town also will be cited.

Meanwhile, Mills on Thursday launched a $200 million coronavirus relief fund for small businesses harmed by the pandemic.

The Maine Economic Recovery Grant Program is “intended to help sustain the viability of Maine’s small businesses and nonprofits – not to replace lost profits – and will provide short-term relief to help stabilize Maine’s economy,” the administration said in a news release.

The $200 million in small business funding comes from federal CARES Act dollars.

Johnson, the DECD commissioner, said in a statement that “this grant program is the first step in supporting businesses and nonprofits with a path forward until they are able to rebuild capacity.”

Mount Katahdin provides a backdrop to Katahdin Avenue in Millinocket in this 2017 photo. An inn in Millinocket has been cited by the state for holding an indoor gathering with more than 50 people after a COVID-19 outbreak was traced to a wedding reception held there. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

In other news, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services  announced in a news release that Maine 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, according to the Department of Health and Human Services news release.

The “swab and send” sites are all connected to the state testing lab, while some other locations, such as national pharmacy chains, send tests to national laboratories, which can result in delays of a week or longer.

“With these new sites, Maine continues to make progress in expanding access to testing so that those at risk of COVID-19 may take the necessary steps to protect themselves, their families, and other Maine people,” Mills said in a statement. “This important effort is crucial to mitigating the spread of this deadly virus and keeping Maine people safe and healthy.”

Appointments are required. For more information, go to www.Get-Tested-COVID19.org

Also, a mobile testing lab, operated by Promerica, will launch at the Maine Visitor Information Center in Kittery on Tuesday. Promerica began accepting appointments Thursday night at www.covidtestforme.com. The lab will operate from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Saturdays and from noon to 7 pm. on Thursdays and Fridays.

Also on Thursday, the York County Sheriff’s Office reported a COVID-19 outbreak among employees, with four testing positive.

York County Sheriff William King said all employees and jail inmates are being tested for COVID-19, and there is “enhanced” cleaning.

“At this time, the sheriff’s office is operating at full capacity and there should not be any interruption of service,” King said in a statement. “Current protocols, such as a closed lobby, canceled visitation, official visitor controls and (protective gear) use for all employees have contributed to limiting the exposure.”

As daily cases in Maine stay in the 20s, schools are releasing their reopening plans, with most choosing a hybrid model in which students attend school in-person two days per week and learn remotely on other days. The Maine Principals’ Association is also finalizing plans for a potential shortened fall  high school sports season, which could jettison contact sports like football and soccer. A decision by the MPA is expected by Aug. 27.

Jeanne Lambrew, Maine’s health and human services commissioner, said on Thursday that the MPA has a tough decision to make.

“We share many Mainers’ passion for promoting physical activity safely, and we are hopeful the Maine Principals’ Association looks hard at the guidance and makes smart decisions,” Lambrew said.

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