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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.

Read More: Trump indoor rally site fined $3K for virus violations

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.

Medical professionals conduct a nasal swab test at the COVID-19 Bondi Beach drive-through testing center on July 07, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Mark Metcalfe/Getty Images)

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.

A woman administers a swab test to a young girl at a Covid Test site in South London on September 15, 2020 in Greater London, England. The site saw a steady stream of drive in traffic, but only a small handful of walk-ins over the course of the first hour of opening. The Department Of Health has appealed to Britain’s biomedical sector for 400 further laboratory technicians as the nation’s return to school increases demand for Covid-19 tests. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

“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.

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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.

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Collins Mum on Supreme Court Nomination in Wake of RBG Death

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine on Friday called the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg “one of the most prominent legal luminaries of our time.” But she didn’t address whether the nomination of her successor should happen now, or after the election.

Ginsburg died Friday at her home in Washington. She was 87. He death opens the door for Republican President Donald Trump and the Senate to speed through a Supreme Court nomination. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell vowed to call for a vote on Trump's nominee, even though he blocked then-President Barack Obama's Supreme Court nomination in 2016 in an election year.

Both independent Sen. Angus King and Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine say there should be no successor until after the election.

McConnell should “honor Justice Ginsburg’s life and legacy by abiding by her final wish that this vacancy not be filled until the election has been decided,” King said.

“Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a giant. A brilliant jurist, who spent her life making our country a fairer, more equitable place for all its citizens. Her unparalleled mind, her unbending backbone and her unfailing determination were formidable, making her not only one of the nation’s foremost legal minds but also a cultural icon who inspired countless young Americans to fight for their beliefs,” King said.

Collins said she got to know Ginsburg when women serving in the Senate had dinner several times with Ginsburg and Justice Sandra Day O’Connor.

“Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was a trailblazer for women’s rights, a fierce champion for equality and an extremely accomplished American who broke countless barriers in the field of law. Throughout her life, Justice Ginsburg surmounted discrimination and sexism through her brilliance, tenacity and wit, becoming one of the most prominent legal luminaries of our time,” Collins said.

Collins, who’s seeking a fifth term, is being challenged by Democrat Sara Gideon, speaker of the Maine House.

“Throughout her life, Justice Ginsburg fought for women’s rights, reproductive rights, and a more just and fair society. Let us continue that fight in her memory and be inspired by her example for generations to come,” Gideon said.

Pingree called Ginsburg “a towering pioneer and progressive icon.”

“For nearly 30 years, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg served as a counterpoint on a Supreme Court long dominated by conservative jurists. She was always a reliable voice for the downtrodden and disenfranchised and that’s why her passing feels so devastating to so many Americans,” Pingree said.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Tags: Maine

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