A summer wedding in Maine should serve as a reminder of the importance of following social distancing and masking guidelines, health officials have said.
After a lengthy investigation, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials in Maine found that an August 7 reception at a lodge in a rural town led to three separate COVID-19 outbreaks. As a result, 177 people became infected with the virus, seven of whom were hospitalized. A total of seven people died.
In its Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) published November 13, the CDC said none of the people who got seriously ill or died even attended the wedding, and many of them lived 100 miles away.
The report revealed that the wedding reception included at least 55 people—more than the limit of 50 currently permitted at indoor gatherings in Maine. None of the COVID-19 safety guidelines were followed, so guests were seated close together and didn't socially distance or wear masks, even though signs were posted requesting that they do so. Staff members wore masks themselves, but they didn't enforce the measures among the guests. More than half of the attendees (30) later tested positive for COVID-19. And in the town itself, 27 residents tested positive after coming into contact with reception guests, and one of them died.
But the infections and fatalities didn't end there. After the parent of a wedding guest went to work at a long-term care facility 100 miles away from the reception venue, they started an outbreak that infected 36 people and killed six. The effect spread to a corrections facility 200 miles away from the reception venue after an infected guest went to work there. This led to another COVID-19 outbreak, infecting 82 staff members and residents.
In July, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that signing, talking, or shouting in enclosed spaces—including wedding venues—could spread COVID-19. Weddings in California, New York, Pennsylvania, and Kansas have also been linked to local coronavirus outbreaks.
It's easy to understand a wedding is considered high-risk events for COVID-19 transmission. It's typically a busy occasion, with lots of close contact, talking, and dancing. "A wedding is one of those occasions where there will be an epidemic of hugging and kissing that goes on," William Schaffner, MD, an infectious disease specialist and professor at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, previously told Health. "Can people try to be restrained? It's unlikely."
If you do go to a wedding, it's important to try to be as safe as possible by sticking to the basic COVID-19 rules: wear a mask, wash your hands regularly and thoroughly with soap and water, and stay six feet away from other people.
Naturally, a face covering isn't what most people have in mind when they're planning their wedding outfit. But since early April, the advice from the CDC has been clear—everyone should wear a cloth face mask or covering in public to help slow the spread of the coronavirus. At least you can now choose from a wide range of colors and fabrics, including satin and sequin numbers that definitely wouldn't look out of place at a wedding reception.
As for social distancing, this might be the hardest rule to stick to at a wedding. A quick reminder: the CDC defines social (or physical) distancing as staying "at least 6 feet (about 2 arms' length) from other people who are not from your household in both indoor and outdoor spaces."
Unfortunately, when it comes to social occasions like weddings, you can't control what other people do. So you might be masked up and committed to social distancing, but there's no guarantee your fellow guests will. Something to think about before you RSVP to that winter wedding, perhaps.
The information in this story is accurate as of press time. However, as the situation surrounding COVID-19 continues to evolve, it's possible that some data have changed since publication. While Health is trying to keep our stories as up-to-date as possible, we also encourage readers to stay informed on news and recommendations for their own communities by using the CDC, WHO, and their local public health department as resources.
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