09162020 Virus Outbreak-Maine Wedding

This Aug. 18, 2020, photo, shows the Big Moose Inn on Millinocket Lake in Millinocket, Maine. A COVID-19 outbreak connected to a wedding reception held at the inn in early August has led to more than 175 cases of the virus and at least five deaths.

Here are the latest developments regarding the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic throughout New England:

New Hampshire

The Salvation Army is planning to start its Red Kettle campaign earlier this year — in November — because of the need caused by the coronavirus pandemic, and people won’t need change or cash in hand to donate.

“We’re going to have a code right on the kettle so that people can just take their phone and scan it, so it’s simple and easy,” Rosemarie Dykeman of the Salvation Army of Greater Nashua told WMUR-TV.

People also can text “Kettles” to 91999 and fill in the amount.

The Salvation Army of Northern New England estimates that it could end up serving 155% more families this Christmas.

“We’re getting a lot of new families that have lost a job due to the pandemic or the fact that their hours have been cut,” Dykeman said.

Mask ordinance: The city of Portsmouth is the latest New Hampshire community to approve a face mask ordinance.

The City Council voted 7-2 Monday night to approve the measure, which went into effect immediately and lasts until Jan. 4, 2021, Seacoastonline.com reported.

The masks are required inside public places and outdoors when social distancing of 6 feet (2 meters) between people who aren’t in the same household can’t be maintained.

The penalty for not wearing a mask won’t exceed $25.

Those exempt from the ordinance are people with medical and health-risk conditions; children age 6 and younger; and people eating or drinking at a business licensed in the city for that purpose.

Some of the other communities that have passed a face mask ordinance include Exeter, Newmarket, Durham, Concord, Nashua, Keene, Lebanon, and Plymouth.

Unemployment rate: New Hampshire’s unemployment rate for August was 6.5%, a 1.5% decrease from July, officials said Tuesday.

The number still reflects the impact on unemployment because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The August 2019 seasonally adjusted rate was 2.6%.

The number of unemployed residents decreased by 11,240 over the month to 47,670. This was 27,790 more unemployed than in August 2019. From July to August 2020, the total labor force increased by 3,030 to 737,420. This was a decrease of 38,180 from August 2019.

Nationally, the seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for August was 8.4%, a decrease of 1.8 percentage points from the July rate, and an increase of 4.7 percentage points from the August 2019 rate.

The numbers: As of Monday, 7,714 people had tested positive for the virus in New Hampshire, an increase of 18 from the previous day. The number of deaths remained at 436. The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in New Hampshire increased over the past two weeks, going from 21 new cases per day on Aug. 30 to 36 new cases per day on Sept. 13.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia or death.

Vermont

If the number of COVID-19 cases continues to remain low at Vermont colleges, universities, and schools, Gov. Phil Scott may announce the easing of some restrictions on the hard-hit hospitality industry this week, he said.

“But again, it all is reliant on the data and the science, making sure that it’s safe to do so,” he said Friday.

Hotels and other lodging businesses are now limited to half of capacity, and restaurants, arts venues other entertainment establishments are limited to half of capacity for a maximum of 75 customers inside and 150 outside.

State officials have said that revenues at lodging and food and service industries are down about 90% from previous years.

“We’ll be taking a look this week and if everything continues to improve, those are the areas that we’d be looking at,” Scott said.

Schools: A Vermont middle school in Duxbury is closed for the week and has switched to all remote learning after two students tested positive for the coronavirus.

The students are in fifth and seventh grades at Crossett Brook Middle School and attended the first day of in-person classes Sept. 8, according to a letter from the superintendent, MyNBC5.com reported.

The district is working with the Vermont Department of Health to do contract tracing, Superintendent Brigid Nease said.

The rest of the schools in the Harwood Union Unified School District remain open this week.

The numbers: Vermont reported 12 new cases of the coronavirus Monday, for a statewide total to date of 1,696.

Four of the new cases were in Chittenden County, three in Washington County, two in Lamoillle County, and one each in Bennington, Windsor and Grand Isle counties.

One person was currently hospitalized with COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, according to the Health Department. The total number of deaths has remained at 58 since late July.

Maine

At least seven people have died in connection to a coronavirus outbreak that continues to sicken people in Maine following a wedding reception held over the summer that violated state virus guidelines, public health authorities said.

The August wedding reception at the Big Moose Inn in Millinocket is linked to more than 175 confirmed cases of the virus, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention said Tuesday.

Maine authorities have identified overlaps between the wedding reception and outbreaks elsewhere in the state. An employee of the York County Jail attended the wedding, Maine CDC officials have said. Maine health officials have also said a staff member from a Madison rehabilitation center, which is the site of six of the seven deaths, attended the event.

The virus cases stemming from the wedding have spanned hundreds of miles in a state that had largely controlled the spread of the coronavirus through the summer. Maine has reported less than 5,000 cases of the virus in total since March.

But the growing number of cases related to the wedding, which exceeded the state’s guidelines of 50 people or less at indoor gatherings, could undo some of that progress if it continues to swell. Authorities have said more than 65 people attended the wedding.

The six people from the Madison rehabilitation facility who died were all residents of that facility and none of them attended the wedding reception, said Nirav Shah, director of Maine CDC.

“Maine CDC is concerned about where we are, and I’m asking everyone else to share in that concern. COVID-19, right now, is not on the other side of the fence. It is in our yards,” Shah said. “The gains that Maine has made against COVID-19 are ones that could, and unfortunately can, be washed away.”

The wedding was also officiated by pastor Todd Bell of Calvary Baptist Church in Sanford. The Maine CDC is currently investigating to determine if an outbreak at the church is connected to the wedding outbreak. That outbreak has sickened 10 people, Shah said.

Calvary Baptist Church issued a statement on Tuesday that said “a number of Calvary Baptist Church members attended” the wedding reception. The statement said the church is taking precautions to limit the spread of the virus, and it will defend its right to continue holding services.

“The Calvary Baptist Church has a legal right to meet. The authority of a local Christian church, a Jewish synagogue, or a Muslim mosque to gather for their respective religious services is a time-honored part of our nation’s history since its inception,” the statement said. “These religious activities are also fully protected under the First Amendment to our United States Constitution.”

Bell has been critical of government attempts to control coronavirus, and videos show he has held services without the use of social distancing. He hired a lawyer known nationally for defending the religious rights of churches. Neither Bell nor Gibbs personally responded to a request Tuesday for comment.

Maine CDC was unaware of the church’s statement and couldn’t comment on it, Shah said.

Shah said the state’s percent positivity rate has ticked up to 0.63% for the previous seven days. At one point, the rate was less than half a percentage point. The rate remains well below the national average of about 5%, Shah said.

CARES Act: Federal CARES Act money will pay for improvements to the passenger rail system that connects Maine to Boston.

The $2.1 million is slated for the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, which operates the Downeaster. The Downeaster runs from Boston to Brunswick daily and is running at limited capacity because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The money will help the Downeaster make improvements that enhance safety, efficiency and reliability, said Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, who is the chair of the transportation appropriations subcommittee. She said the Downeaster is critical for Maine’s economic recovery from the pandemic because of its role “providing good jobs, supporting local vendors of goods and services, and strengthening our tourism industry.”

Maine has had more than 4,900 cases of the virus since the beginning of the pandemic, which has disrupted numerous industries in the state.

The numbers: The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported 18 new cases of the virus in the state on Tuesday.

The number of people who have tested positive in Maine stands at 4,918 while the number of patients who have died in Maine is 137, the Maine CDC reported.

The seven-day average for new cases per day was about 31, which was about seven more than it was a week ago.

The illness results in mild or moderate symptoms in most people, but severe symptoms are more likely in the elderly or those with existing health problems.

Testing above average: Maine has been more aggressive about testing residents for the coronavirus than the nation at large, Maine CDC director Dr. Nirav Shah said on Tuesday. Maine’s testing rate is 358 people per 100,000, Shah said. That’s about 58% more than the national average, he said.

Shah said Maine’s hospitalization rate is also less than the national average. Maine’s hospitalization rate is less than one person per 100,000 while the national rate is 10 per 100,000, he said.

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