Tuesday, September 01, 2020

Virus deaths trend slacks, but cases still spiking, causing rural concern; Maine wedding may illustrate one reason why

Coronavirus-related deaths in the United States neared a cumulative total of 180,000 on Sunday "as states hit hard by a surge of infections earlier in the summer continued to record numbers of daily fatalities," Derek Hawkins reports for The Washington Post. "The total number of cases reported in the United States was also approaching a worrying new milestone, on track to exceed 6 million in the next few days, according to The Post’s data."

Though the average for new daily cases trended downward slightly over the past week, more than 40,000 new infections are being reported daily, and many places in the Midwest and South are seeing spikes, Hawkins reports. The uptick in rural cases is most concerning, said former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Scott Gottlieb, since rural outbreaks could quickly overwhelm local health-care systems.

The spikes often happen where residents aren't properly observing social distancing, as happened at an Aug. 7 wedding in rural Maine. About 65 people gathered for the wedding at the Big Moose Inn outside of Millinocket, pop. 4,500. "It wasn’t until the next day that one of them reported having symptoms of the coronavirus," Brittany Shammas reports for the Post. "Soon others did, too. By the end of August, officials with the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention had linked at least 87 cases to the wedding — including outbreaks at a jail and a nursing home in York County, more than 200 miles away. And the outbreak turned deadly."

The wedding has now been linked to 123 cases in Maine—the largest outbreak in the state—and the death of an 83-year-old woman who did not attend the wedding, Zoe Greenberg reports for The Boston Globe.

On Aug. 30, the pastor who officiated at the wedding gave a "defiant sermon during an indoor church service," Greenberg reports. "Todd Bell, the pastor, portrayed Calvary Baptist Church, which he leads, as being on the front lines of a culture war, battling against a 'socialistic platform' that mandates mask-wearing and distance learning in schools."

In his sermon, which the church posted on YouTube, Bell insinuated that social-distancing restrictions were a ploy meant to weaken Christianity: "They want us to shut down, go home, and let people get used to that just long enough until we can finally stop the advancing of the Gospel."

"The wedding outbreak is especially resonant in America’s rural communities, where gatherings are a lifeline and where,some public health experts fear the lack of significant virus transmission may have lulled residents into a false sense of complacency," Shammas reports. "Fewer health-care resources mean that if an outbreak strikes, it can be especially devastating."

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