Over 120 people have been infected with coronavirus and one has died after an August 7th wedding that exceeded indoor pandemic capacity guidelines at a Maine inn. Now the inn’s owners say they misinterpreted guidance from the state on holding indoor gatherings.
Currently, Maine is limiting indoor gatherings to 50 people, but the Big Moose Inn at Millinocket Lake allowed the wedding of 62 people to take place.
Last week, a few dozen COVID-19 cases were linked to the wedding, but now Maine health officials say 123 people have tested positive as a result of the wedding. According to the Boston Globe, 25% of the cases were tertiary, “meaning they were infected by someone who was infected by someone who attended the wedding.”
One woman died after having contact with a wedding guest. The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention also said a wedding guest infected a nursing home staffer, while an employee at a local jail who attended the wedding caught the virus and subsequently sparked an outbreak at the jail. The wedding also resulted in COVID spread to a local school, through a teacher who was hired to “provide entertainment” at the wedding, the Globe reports.
The inn’s owners have issued a statement admitting they made a mistake. “We understood that there could be no more than 50 persons in our largest room,” the owners wrote. “We did make an error in the interpretation of that rule. Our interpretation was that we could take a wedding party of more than 50 persons, and split them between two rooms as long as it didn’t exceed our total capacity or a specific room’s capacity. The state — perhaps, rightfully so — assumes that individuals from a larger group would ignore the room restrictions, and take the opportunity to co-mingle. Our interpretation of the rule put the Big Moose Inn in violation of the gathering of people over the maximum number allowed by Maine DECD guidelines.”
The owners also said that their allowed total venue capacity during this time is 80, but Maine health officials found there were over 100 people seated around the inn. Further, while employees wore masks, many guests did not and employees allegedly did not encourage them to wear them.
A man who was staying at the Big Moose Inn, but did not attend the wedding, Rich Zaker, told the Portland Press Herald that guests “were everywhere. It was very crowded. Not much social distancing. I saw maybe one or two people wearing a mask but that was it.”
Zaker said of the inn’s staff, “It seems like they were pretty irresponsible. They played fast and loose with a lot of people’s safety.” Zaker added that nobody from the inn contacted him to inform him about the outbreak; he found out about it through news reports.
New York State is currently being sued by an engaged couple who are determined to have a 175-person wedding at an upstate venue, even though the state only allows indoor gatherings of 50 people. The couple argues that under indoor dining rules, the venue’s capacity can handle more than 200 people. However, Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker pointed out that at weddings, all guests are mingling with each other for hours, while indoor dining guests are in smaller parties that come and go at different times.
Zucker, in his declaration for the state’s appeal of the lawsuit, explained, “One hallmark of a super-spreader event is its size. As [the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] stated in June 12th, 2020 guidance, the more people with whom an individual interacts at a gathering and the longer that interaction lasts, the higher the potential risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 and COVID-19 spreading. As a group’s size increases, so does the risk of transmitting the virus to a wider cluster. A large group size also increases the chance that someone present will already have the virus and be contagious, even if entirely asymptomatic.”