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At least 42 coronavirus cases linked to multiday church event in Maine

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At least 42 coronavirus cases have been linked to a church in Brooks, Maine, that held indoor services with 70-100 people who attended. The church also held a multiday "fellowship gathering" with nearby churches that involved up to 150 people.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC) is now investigating the outbreak at Brooks Pentecostal Church and its affiliated school, Lighthouse Christian Academy, in Waldo County. The number of confirmed cases linked to the church have risen to 42 on Tuesday, from just 17 associated cases on Saturday.

Dr. Nirav D. Shah, director of the Maine CDC, called the outbreak "quickly evolving" during a news conference on Tuesday, adding that he expects the number of cases associated with the church to increase in the coming days, "perhaps significantly." 

Shah said the 42 cases range in age from 2 years old to 80 years old. 

The outbreak appears to have stemmed from a "fellowship gathering" by the church between October 2-4 — attended by approximately 100-150 people. Individuals from other churches, including the Charleston Church, the Quaker Hill Church and the Faith Bible College in Charleston, attended the gathering, Shah said.

The Brooks church itself also held services, typically including 70-100 individuals indoors, Shah indicated. Live streams of the indoor services on the church's Facebook page show a lack of masks and social distancing.

At least 42 coronavirus cases are linked to Brooks Pentecostal Church in Waldo County, Maine. Google Maps

Church officials told Maine CDC that "masks were available, but not routinely used" at both the regular services and the rally, according to Shah. The church has temporarily suspended church services upon request from the Maine CDC. 

"As the pastor of the Brooks Pentecostal Church, I would like to express sadness over the resulting sickness that has been spread by the virus," Pastor M.W. Shaw said in a statement Tuesday. "Though the origin of the virus is unclear, we will be addressing all recommendations and guidelines provided to us by the CDC. Our church will be addressing our continuity of worship in a safe and orderly manner."

"We are comforted at this time that there have been no hospitalizations and, more importantly, no deaths," Shaw added.

Seven of the 42 cases are linked to the Lighthouse Christian Academy, which shares a property with the church. The school is attended by 27 children from kindergarten to high school.

There is also a case in Bayview Manor, a Waldo County long-term care facility, involving an employee. The facility is currently testing all residents and staff, and there is not currently an outbreak, Shah said.

Shah also explained that there are cases linked to four other schools, including the Ames Elementary School in Searsmont, Captain Albert Stevens School in Belfast, Troy Howard Middle School in Belfast and Mt View Elementary School in Thorndike. None of these schools are currently experiencing outbreaks, but rather, individual cases believed to be linked to the church outbreak. 

Maine CDC is in touch with school officials to further track the virus within the schools. 

As of Tuesday, Maine has had 5,989 cases of COVID-19. Despite a low number of total cases, new and active cases have been rising over the last two months, echoing trends around the U.S.

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