AUGUSTA — Robert Long, communications director for the state Department of Health and Human Services, confirmed Tuesday, Aug. 17, that Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has opened an investigation into an outbreak involving nine cases of COVID-19 associated with Penobscot McCrum LLC in Belfast.

Meanwhile, Maine CDC said its investigation of an outbreak associated with Calvary Chapel Belfast in Searsmont is ongoing, with 15 reported cases of COVID-19 as of Monday. Another nine cases were reported last week among staff at Waldo County General Hospital.

Waldo County remains a hot spot in the statewide COVID-19 surge, with 50 cases per 10,000 residents as of Friday, the most of any county in Maine. In the latest CDC report Aug. 17, there had been a total of 1,372 coronavirus cases in Waldo County, with 22 deaths, and 72,896 cases statewide, with 907 deaths, since the pandemic began.

The Republican Journal received an anonymous tip last week about cases at Penobscot McCrum. In response to The Journal’s emailed questions Friday, Human Resources Manager Dayna McCrum would say only that “The CDC considers an incident an outbreak when there are three or more cases. Yes, we have been in contact with the CDC.”

She also furnished a prepared statement issued Friday by McCrum Compliance Manager Steven Craig: “Penobscot McCrum continues to encourage employees who are not feeling well or have COVID-19 like symptoms to get tested. Penobscot McCrum is currently investigating any possible cases of COVID-19 and is following state and federal guidelines pertaining to positive COVID-19 test results for employees. Penobscot McCrum has been and will continue to investigate COVID-19 cases on a case by case basis and follow current CDC guidance and safety measures needed.”

Maine had recorded 863 “breakthrough” cases of the coronavirus in fully vaccinated people as of Friday, the CDC said, although unvaccinated people still make up the vast majority of new cases. COVID-19 vaccines provide strong protection against serious illness even if a vaccinated person catches the disease.

Waldo County General Hospital in Belfast closed its operating room for a day last week after the outbreak there. Spokeswoman Jenifer Harris told The Journal Aug. 16 that nine cases were reported in total at WCGH, apparently stemming from exposure in the greater Waldo County community. After the one-day OR closure there were no additional positive tests among staff, she said, “and now everything is back to normal — with all the same precautions” in place as before, including masks.

A post on Calvary Chapel Belfast’s Facebook page early Friday afternoon reminded its members of Sunday services in person Aug. 15  at 8 a.m., 9:30 a.m. and 11 a.m., with child care provided. “If you or your child are showing any symptoms of sickness we ask that you please stay home until you are better,” the post said. “See you SUNDAY.”

A reader posted a question Saturday, ‘Why are you having in person services while your parishioners are in the middle of an outbreak?” to which an apparent church member replied, “The church has been closed for almost 2 weeks as of today. This is a satisfactory amount of time based on CDC guidelines.”

Republican Journal attempts to reach the Calvary Chapel Belfast pastor for comment have been unsuccessful.

Five Maine counties — Waldo, Knox, Somerset, Penobscot and Piscataquis — were listed in the U.S. CDC’s “high” transmission range as of Saturday. Except for Kennebec County, which has moderate transmission, all other Maine counties show substantial transmission, the threshold at which the federal CDC recommends that vaccinated people wear masks indoors.

Reporter Fran Gonzalez contributed to this story.