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Maine seeks to end jail outbreaks; a gathering causes worry

September 29, 2020 GMT

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — Authorities in Maine are recommending that every county jail in the state set up a COVID-19 testing plan as the state continues to grapple with a large outbreak at a jail in Alfred.

An outbreak at York County Jail has sickened more than 80 people. It’s connected with a large outbreak that stems from a wedding and reception in northern Maine.

A state report later showed that some of the county jails in the state didn’t require inmates and staff to wear masks in the aftermath of the early stages of the Alfred outbreak. One jail wasn’t performing symptom checks on staff, and many lacked diversion plans about where to send inmates during an outbreak.

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The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and Maine Department of Corrections are calling for the jails to implement testing plans and protocols for screening and personal protective equipment, according to guidelines issued by the agencies. Guidelines for testing include a recommendation that facilities conduct the testing anytime an inmate or staff member exhibits COVID-19 symptoms.

Maine CDC director Nirav Shah said he had a conference call with the Maine Sheriffs’ Association on Monday in which the sheriffs made clear they intended to follow the new guidelines.

“It was clear to me that they are all going in the same direction to assure full, universal compliance,” Shah said.

In other news related to the pandemic in Maine:

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CHURCH GATHERING

A large church gathering over the weekend has the “potential to be a superspreader” event, a town manager said of efforts to contain the coronavirus outbreak in Maine.

Deputy Police Chief Rick Stubbert said the Rev. Jamie Dickson, senior pastor of the Kingdom Life Church in Oakland, indicated the event at his church grew to be larger than planned.

A crowd packed the church on Saturday evening for “Worship Night,” featuring a worship leader from California. The event is believed to have far exceeded the state’s limit of 50 people at an indoors gatherings because of the pandemic.

Stubbert said the parking lot of the church appeared to be full Friday and Saturday, and there were “a lot of out-of-state plates coming and going.”

“Obviously, this has the potential of being a superspreader, so we’re trying to figure out exactly what to do and how to move forward,” Town Manager Gary Bowman told the Morning Sentinel.

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The church canceled an indoor conference that was originally planned for this past weekend.

Instead, the church wrote on Facebook that it would be holding a “worship night” with a livestream option, and the church seemed to acknowledge the event could be controversial. “Please avoid posting this online as you want to be very sensitive to COVID policies and general community concern for larger gatherings,” the church wrote.

“This is my first time leading worship in a church in probably four to five months,” Sean Feucht, the worship leader, said during the livestream.

He told the gathering he had been in Washington, D.C, with 100,000 people earlier in the day.

Dickson, the pastor, told the newspaper that every person was offered a mask and a personal hand sanitizer bottle, and there were space limitations posted on bathrooms to ensure social distancing. “And CDC guidelines were posted through the church,” he wrote.

The event is getting attention after an Aug. 7 wedding and reception in the Katahdin region became a superspreader event.

That event led to several outbreaks in different parts of the state. Eight deaths and more than 170 cases were linked to the wedding.

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THE NUMBERS

An additional 37 people have tested positive for the coronavirus in the state, the Maine CDC said Tuesday.

The total number of confirmed cases is more than 5,300, the Maine CDC said. The number of deaths increased by one to 141. The average number of new cases per day was about 30, which was slightly less than it was a week ago.

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 and death.

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VACCINE ROLL-OUT

The federal government has given Maine more than $720,000 to support the roll-out of a vaccine to prevent COVID-19 when one becomes available. Maine Sens. Susan Collins, a Republican, and Angus King, an independent, said the support “will help to ensure that all Mainers, regardless of age, race, income, or location, are able to access the vaccine and protect themselves against the coronavirus.”

Many vaccines against COVID-19 are in development, but there are none approved yet for use in the U.S.

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Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.