An outbreak of COVID-19 involving several cases reportedly linked to the Stetson Memorial United Methodist Church — one of which led to the death of Lynn Blevins, the church pastor’s wife — is under investigation by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
The Maine CDC opened its investigation on Saturday upon confirming links between at least three cases associated with the church, said Maine CDC spokesperson Robert Long. The outbreak involves seven cases.
The Rev. Dan Blevins had followed the recommended CDC health guidelines, according to his daughter, Robin Bickford. The church had switched to remote services the Sunday before Thanksgiving, out of an abundance of caution after several members of the church exhibited symptoms, though none had yet tested positive for COVID-19.
Bickford’s parents first began feeling ill on Thanksgiving Day, she said. Her mother was first admitted to Houlton Regional Hospital four days later, on Nov. 30, and her father was admitted four days after that.
Bickford praised Houlton Regional’s doctors and nurses for the care they gave to her parents, even as her mother’s condition continued to worsen.
“They went above and beyond the level of care they would have received at any other hospital,” Bickford said. “They actually took a larger room and called maintenance, and within 24 hours maintenance had converted and run all the ductwork into that room to turn it into a pressurized COVID room, just for the two of them so they could be in a room together.”
As Lynn Blevins’ symptoms became more severe, the hospital attempted to have her airlifted to Northern Light Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, but a snowstorm that night prevented them from doing so and she had to be taken via ambulance.
She never arrived. Lynn Blevins died Dec. 6 en route to Bangor, Houlton Regional Hospital CEO Shawn Anderson said Tuesday. He confirmed that hers was the facility’s first COVID-19 death and the only one recorded thus far.
Bickford said she believes the virus had already spread around the greater Patten community, which also includes the towns of Mt. Chase, Sherman and Stacyville, before entering the church.
“My understanding and my feeling is that this is not something that started at the church,” she said. “This is something that started in the community and spread into the church, unfortunately, and my parents caught it, and my mother died.”
Located on the border of Penobscot and Aroostook counties, Patten is just one of several areas that has seen more COVID-19 cases in recent weeks. This month, the total number of cases in Aroostook County has doubled, from 150 on Dec. 1 to 300 on Dec. 14, according to the Maine CDC.