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PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — 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 an outbreak at a Madison rehabilitation center, which is the site of six of the seven deaths, is connected to the wedding because an employee of the facility lives in the same household as a person who attended.

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.

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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 Dr. 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.

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“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 the attorney working with the church, David Gibbs of Florida, personally responded to a request Tuesday for comment.

Maine CDC spokesperson Robert Long said the agency’s investigations suggest “multiple potential points of transmission related to the August 7 wedding and reception.” The agency is working to limit the spread of the virus and support people affected by it, he 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.

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Associated Press writer David Sharp contributed to this report.

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This story has been corrected to show that an employee of the Madison facility lives in a household with someone who attended the wedding. The employee did not attend.

News Source: Associated Press

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Wedding With Nearly 300 People Busted At Queens Venue, Chinatown Karaoke Bar Shut Down For Violations

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — The city is cracking down on large gatherings, hoping to stop the spread of growing COVID clusters.

A wedding celebration in Queens was busted late Friday. The sheriff’s office says there was a wedding going on at the Royal Elite Palace in Woodside with indoor seating, food, alcohol and a live band.

Dominic Aviles lives next door to the venue.

“Every day they got a party over there, every day,” he told CBS2’s Cory James.

Investigators say there were nearly 300 people inside, celebrating a wedding, when officers arrived just before midnight.

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It’s not surprising to Aviles, who says he’s seen several large events there this month.

“They entre from the back of the building, and then they don’t put no light,” he said.

Neighbor L.J. Springer says she’s seen guests near what authorities say is the entrance to a parking garage.

“They were standing right by the service entrance, which is weird because normally everyone goes in on the other side where the main entrance is,” she said.

The owner and a manager at Royal Elite Palace were taken into custody and issued appearance tickets for multiple violations. CBS2 reached out to the event hall but have not heard back.

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The sheriff’s office also shut down the K-One Karaoke Bar in Chinatown on Saturday because of social distancing violations.

Investigators say close to 80 people were inside the bar, drinking and dining.

The K-One Karaoke Bar manager and security guard, who authorities say was unlicensed, were both taken into custody and issued appearance tickets for multiple misdemeanors, including violating the emergency measure.

CBS2 reached out to the bar for comment but have not heard back.

The busts happened as cases are starting to rise in New York.

MORE: New York State Logs More Than 1,000 Daily COVID-19 Cases; Most Since June 5

Gov. Andrew Cuomo says there were over 1,000 new coronavirus cases Friday with an increase in hospitalizations and people in the ICU.

Dr. Mitch Klatz, president and CEO of NYC Health + Hospitals, says they’re seeing a rise in outbreaks in parts of Brooklyn and Queens.

“In many areas of southern Brooklyn and other, some isolated areas in Queens, the prevalence of COVID is three times higher than it is in other sections. We have been doing a lot of outreach from August. I’ve been on calls myself with community leaders, urging people to take fairly simple steps — wear a mask, keep socially distant, no large gatherings,” Klatz said.

Homecrest and Gravesend in Brooklyn have seen the highest return of positive test results, which officials say jumped to 6.7% with the rest of the state sitting at 1%.

MORE: Health Officials Release Latest COVID-19 Infection Rates For Brooklyn, Queens Neighborhoods

Inspections and enforcement measures began Friday in areas of Brooklyn and Queens experiencing an alarming increase in COVID cases.

Some residents say they’re not surprised, but they are concerned.

“My son is going to private school and I have to go to work, and if the school will close, I will not be able to work, so I’m really worried,” one mother said.

MORE: NYC Health Inspections, Enforcement Efforts Continue In Neighborhoods With Growing COVID-19 Infection Rates

Others disagree with the busts and shutdowns.

“This is America, we should be able to do what we want,” one Rockland man said.

If residents refuse to comply, the city has threatened to prohibit gatherings of 10 or more people, issue fines, and close schools and non-essential businesses.

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