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Thread: Residents angry after Maine wedding linked to 7 virus deaths: "We can't go nowhere"

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    Residents angry after Maine wedding linked to 7 virus deaths: "We can't go nowhere"

    A wedding in rural Maine became a coronavirus "superspreader" event that left seven people dead and 177 infected. Now, for the community and wider region, which had relaxed social-distancing rules introduced earlier in the crisis, the news was a brutal wake-up call.

    "When we heard of the outbreak... everyone really hunkered down," said Cody McEwen, head of the town council. "As soon as the outbreak happened, we completely closed the town again."

    Some of the residents were clearly angry at the event's organizers -- starting with the tavern, whose license was temporarily suspended.

    "I don't think they should have had the wedding. I think it should have been limited like they were supposed to," said Nina Obrikis, a member of the Baptist church where the ceremony was held.

    "We can't go nowhere or do nothing," she said.

    The nuptials in early August were attended by 65 people, breaking the official limit of 50 allowed at a gathering.

    A ceremony at a church was followed by a reception at the Big Moose Inn -- both venues near the picturesque town of Millinocket, whose population numbers just 4,000.

    Ten days later, two dozen people associated with the wedding had tested positive for COVID-19 and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Maine opened an investigation.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control, said thatnone of the seven people who died had actually attended the wedding.

    Contact-tracers linked the wedding to several virus hotspots across the state -- including more than 80 cases in a prison 230 miles (370 kilometers) away, where one of the guards had attended the ceremony.

    Another 10 probable cases were found in a Baptist church in the same area, while 39 infections -- and six of the deaths -- were at a nursing home 100 miles from Millinocket.

    Maine Governor Janet Mills on Thursday issued a warning to the 1.3 million residents of the state.

    Such flare-ups "threaten to undo the gains we have made at the drop of a hat," she said.

    "COVID-19 is not on the other side of the fence, it is in our yards."

    SANFORD (BDN) -- The pastor at a Sanford Baptist church linked to a wave of new COVID-19 outbreaks in Maine disputed the legitimacy of the virus in a fiery indoor sermon on Sunday, lifting religious faith over realities of the pandemic and discouraging followers from heeding government mandates.

    Todd Bell, pastor of the Calvary Baptist Church, said he believed ?God, not government,? would control the pandemic. He advised followers to wear masks if they wanted, but doing so was ?like keeping a mosquito out of a chain-link fence.?

    In his sermon, Bell brushed off scrutiny and media reports about his involvement in the recent outbreaks in the Katahdin area and Sanford, which have been linked to more than 120 COVID-19 cases ? the largest outbreak in the state ? as well as the death of an 83-year-old woman who did not attend the event.

    Sanford church linked to Millinocket wedding holds Sunday services after outbreak
    Hymns from a 15-person maskless choir preceded Bell?s sermon, which was delivered in-person at the church on Sunday. The Sanford church posted the sermon on YouTube a day after the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention said on Saturday it was investigating a coronavirus outbreak linked to at least five people there.


    The pastor?s lax attitude about the virus has strained a partnership between Calvary Baptist Church and York County Shelter, which used the church?s building to provide food and other resources to dozens of unhoused and low-income people in the community.

    The shelter moved its operations outdoors this week and its meal program is now relying solely on staff, effectively barring volunteers from the church from helping.

    ?Folks that we?ve worked with for a long time understand and have a lot of respect for us wanting to protect the people that we serve,? York County Shelter Director Megan Gean-Gendron said, adding that the agency had worked hard to implement CDC guidelines.

    But she?s concerned the church has put vulnerable people at risk. About 85 percent of clients at the shelter have lung, heart and diabetic conditions that make them more susceptible to the virus, Gean-Gendron said.

    The pastor has been a central figure in the state?s largest outbreak after officiating a wedding in East Millinocket on Aug. 7. Many at the reception were not wearing masks.

    Bell downplayed the broader implications of the outbreak, saying that he knew ?something bad had happened? Saturday because he started receiving texts of encouragement after the CDC said it was investigating links to the church and the latest outbreak.

    Millinocket inn guest says he was never called after wedding coronavirus outbreak
    Commenters on social media 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?? he 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.?

    Bell?s sermon criticized the widespread news coverage surrounding the outbreak at his church, and the pastor said he wished the media ?would just say exactly what?s going on.?

    Bell and church officials did not respond to inquiries for comment.

    In a sermon that often veered into political territory, Bell, who came to Maine from North Carolina in 1994, framed Calvary Baptist Church as if it were in the trenches of a culture war with liberals.

    ?I?ll tell you what the world wants all the churches to do,? Bell said. ?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.?

    How a single wedding changed the contours of Maine's coronavirus outbreak
    Bell?s comments echoed words used by President Donald Trump in a speech delivered in New Hampshire on Thursday, where Trump claimed that Democrats ?don?t believe law-abiding citizens can go to a church together.?

    State rules meant to slow the spread of the coronavirus allow up to 50 people to gather for in-person services, and those rules encourage churches to instead hold online, outdoor and drive-in services.

    In his sermon, Bell repeated misinformation that the U.S. death rate in 2020 was ?the same as it was last year.? The virus has infected nearly 6 million people in the U.S. since March, resulting in more than 187,000 deaths and many others with lasting ailments.

    License reinstated for Millinocket inn linked to wedding coronavirus outbreak
    Bell also cautioned against the use of vaccines for the coronavirus once they are developed, claiming they contain ?aborted baby tissue,? referring to vaccines for chickenpox, rubella and other diseases that were once developed using fetal cells from elective abortions years ago.

    Instead of vaccines, Bell said he would put his faith in God ? ?the one that has the power to remove pestilences.?

    Others in the community also feel unsafe because of the church?s response.

    Coronavirus outbreak linked to Millinocket wedding continues to grow
    Kay Rumery said that Bell and two other missionaries from the church attempted to push their way into her Sanford home in August within days of the wedding Bell officiated in Millinocket.

    ?They came in without masks and asked to come in even further,? Rumery said. ?They asked twice if I was sure they couldn?t come into my living room. When I refused they forced a pamphlet at me.?

    Rumery said she felt unsettled when Bell and church members approached her without wearing masks and invited her to church.

    ?I didn?t think churches were supposed to be open,? Rumery said.

  2. #2
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    An attorney for Pastor Todd Bell of the Calvary Baptist Church in Sanford says the church is encouraging congregants not to wear masks.

    Masks are not required at the church’s school, Sanford Christian Academy.

    Sanford pastor linked to Millinocket wedding outbreak hires lawyer
    Bell has continued to hold indoor services even after a wedding that he officiated in Millinocket sparked Maine’s largest COVID-19 outbreak. Some of his parishioners have tested positive for the virus.

    Sanford is strengthening its rules on mask wearing in public places.


    Sanford approves emergency mask ordinance
    The city approved an emergency ordinance. It calls for people to wear a mask in public when social distancing is not possible.

    Sanford is currently dealing with several different outbreaks.

    How a single wedding changed the contours of Maine's coronavirus outbreak
    The mayor says they have to turn the trend around and hopes the mask wearing measure will also help local businesses recover.

    Violating the ordinance would start with a written warning, followed by a fine.

    The legal organization that represents the Calvary Baptist Church in Sanford says Pastor Todd Bell and his family have received death threats.

    Bell officiated a wedding in Millinocket that is now linked to 158 cases of COVID-19. The pastor drew media attention for criticizing the Maine Center for Disease Control's safety guidelines in church services after an outbreak was detected among his congregation.

    In a written statement, attorneys with the Florida-based National Center for Life and Liberty say the Calvary Baptist Church has coordinated with law enforcement about the threats it's received.

    The statement says the church has also taken precautions to reduce the spread of COVID-19, including extra sanitation and social distancing "as is reasonable."

    The Calvary Baptist Church photo appears through a media sharing agreement with Bangor Daily News.

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