Aon a beautiful day in the shadow of Mount Katahdin was no doubt a happy day. But it has spread misery ever since.
That single event on Aug. 7 is linked tooutbreaks in at least two other locations in Maine, with more than 170 people contracting the virus and seven deaths since.
The officiant at the wedding, the Rev. Todd Bell of Calvary Baptist Church in Sanford, joined several members of his congregation. About 10 of his congregants also have tested positive for the virus. He declined to speak to The Associated Press.
Bell continued to hold services in Sanford and bristled over attacks aimed at him on social media. In one sermon, he urged people to put their trust in God over government and questioned the wisdom of masks, likening their effectiveness to a chain-link fence trying to keep out mosquitoes, CBS affiliate WGME reported.
An attorney for Bell said the church is encouraging congregants not to wear masks and face coverings are not required at the church’s school, Sanford Christian Academy, WGME reports.
The station reports that Bell has dismissed commenters on social media who have criticized the pastor and members of his congregation for spreading the virus.
“Would you rather your pastor study the Bible this morning or read all 3,000 comments of negativity?” Bell said. “You don’t want the pastor who is being ruled by untrue comments. You want the pastor who’s being ruled by Jesus Christ. So I’ve come to Christ — I encourage you to do the same.”
On a video, which is no longer public on YouTube, he said he’s been “reviled” because of the wedding. The National Center for Life and Liberty, which represents the church, says Bell and his family have received death threats, Maine Public Radio reported.
Critics have questioned the wisdom of having such a gathering in the midst of a pandemic.
Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control, said the single event has the power to undo much of the state’s progress during the pandemic. The virus can become “the uninvited guest at every single wedding, party or event in Maine,” he warned.
The “super spreader” event started with wedding attendees in the Katahdin region and spread to the community at large and to a nursing home in Madison. An attendee worked at the York County Jail, 220 miles away, where there are more than 70 cases. The state is also investigating an outbreak at a church in Sanford, home of the wedding’s officiant.
None of those who died actually attended the wedding and reception. The first of the deaths was reported in Millinocket, where no one has tested positive for several weeks, the town manager said Wednesday. Six other deaths were residents of Maplecrest Rehabilitation and Living Center in Madison.
The ramifications were swift.
Across the state, brides and grooms scrambled as event venues reassessed safety rules during the pandemic. The reception venue lost its business license, briefly, and hired a public relations firm. The pastor hired a law firm that specializes in religious liberty.
The outbreak changed the calculus of state health officials, who urged renewed vigilance in a…