Outside investigator to probe how 46 inmates and 18 staff members at Maine jail got coronavirus; outbreak linked to Aug. 7 wedding in Millinocket – The Boston Globe


Shah said the case tally includes 56 wedding guests and their secondary and tertiary contacts, 46 inmates and 19 staff members at the York County Jail, and 16 cases among residents and employees of the Maplecrest Maplecrest Rehabilitation & Living Center in Madison, Maine.

According to Shah, eight inmates at the York County Jail had tested positive within the past 24 hours.

“Our concern level remains high,” Shah said, not just for the jail but for all of York County, where about the half the outbreaks being reviewed by his agency are located. The situation in York County, Shah said, “has the potential to spiral” and affect other areas if it’s not contained.

“No outbreak is an island,” Shah said. “One outbreak can quickly lead to several more outbreaks. … All this means there is now strong evidence that the virus is with us, and in certain parts of the state, like in York County, has resulted in sustained, widespread transmission” of the disease.

Among the York County outbreaks under review is the one at Cavalry Baptist Church in Sanford, Maine, Shah said. He said 10 COVID-19 cases have been associated with the church outbreak. The church’s pastor, Todd Bell, had officiated the wedding held Aug. 7 in Millinocket.

Asked Thursday if the church outbreak had been linked to the earlier wedding, Shah said “not a direct link, although that is a focus of our investigation,” which is ongoing through contact tracing.

Shah said his team has been in regular communication with Bell and on Thursday sent him a letter outlining public health recommendations and “our expectations of compliance.” He said the state has had “good communication” with Bell, who he said has been “responsive.”

However, Shah stressed that officials want to see “action” around compliance, not just “communication.”

Bell had given a defiant sermon Aug. 30, just one day after the Maine CDC announced it was investigating a coronavirus cluster among those affiliated with the church.

“I’ll tell you what the world wants all the churches to do,” Bell said during one of two Sunday services, which the church posted on YouTube. “They want us to shut down, go home, and let people get used to that just long enough until we can finally stop the advancing of the Gospel.”

No one answered the phone at a number listed for Bell’s church Thursday, and its website wasn’t publicly accessible.

Earlier Thursday, York County Manager Gregory T. Zinser said officials were hiring an outside investigator to review the outbreak at the jail.

The county plans to shortly identify the third-party investigator who’ll probe what went wrong, Zinser said. He said the “first indication” the facility had that the outbreak linked to the Aug. 7 wedding had spread to jail came on Aug. 19.

Currently, Zinser said, the infected inmates are being housed in a separate unit in single cells.

“We understand we are operating under some difficult circumstances,” Zinser said.

“I’m going to acknowledge that this is having an impact on our staffing,” he continued. “However, with the protocols we put in place … we are able to keep up with our duty to man and staff the facility.”

Asked about social distancing of inmates and the status of the sick, Zinser said “right now it’s going very well, if that’s an acceptable response here, notwithstanding the outbreak.”

He said there are currently 106 or 107 inmates total at the jail, which has capacity of about 250. He said officials are aware of a small number of infected correctional officers reporting mild, flu-like symptoms, and that some infected inmates have complained of issues like a scratchy throat, diarrhea, and fever and chills.

During the later briefing, Shah urged Maine residents to cooperate with contact tracers if they receive a call from the disease trackers working to stop the spread of the contagion. He stressed that tracers will never ask about sensitive matters such as someone’s immigration status, finances or social security number, nor do they track cell phone location data.

“The bottom line here is that Maine CDC contact tracers are never gonna give you up, they’re never gonna let you down,” Shah said, oddly but unmistakably riffing on the ’80s pop tune from Rick Astley. “They’re never gonna run around, and desert you. Maine CDC contact tracers are never gonna make you cry, they’re never gonna say goodbye, and they’re never gonna tell a lie and hurt you.”

In a more serious vein, Shah pleaded with Maine residents to exercise caution over the upcoming holiday weekend, when precautions like face coverings and physical distancing will remain paramount.

“COVID-19 likes holidays. It can make an uninvited appearance at just about any backyard gathering … that you might have planned this weekend,” Shah said.

Travis Andersen can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @TAGlobe.

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