May 19—The mass vaccination site at Scarborough Downs will close on Thursday, as the state shifts its strategy to smaller locations like doctor's offices, pharmacies and social clubs to get more people immunized.
Some 87,000 Maine people have been vaccinated at the former horse racing track since the site opened in early February. The clinic is operated by MaineHealth, which runs numerous immunization clinics throughout the state.
"That facility was the right strategy for the moment," said John Porter, a MaineHealth spokesman. "We had a lot of people extremely eager to get vaccinated as soon as possible."
State health officials said with 50 percent of the total population now immunized, the strategy is changing to move to smaller locations to vaccinate as much of the remaining population as possible. Another large-scale vaccination clinic, the Cross Insurance Center in Bangor, is closing May 27.
Jeanne Lambrew, Maine's health and human services commissioner, said in a media briefing Wednesday that any place that believes it can vaccinate 10 or more people — whether it's a church, school, social club or employer — can contact the state and obtain help in setting up a vaccine clinic.
"It's yet another example of how we are at this phase of vaccination where we are not just expecting people to come to sites, but we are trying to move those sites to where the people are," Lambrew said.
Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said health officials "want to make vaccination the easy choice."
Porter said MaineHealth is moving to school-based clinics and even at restaurants and bars in an effort to "meet people where they are at." He said the network is trying to reach people who are willing to be vaccinated but are also busy and won't go out of their way to get a shot.
Shah said that 1,739 people have received an incentive in the "Your Shot to Get Outdoors" program, which is available to adults who are being immunized through May 31. The incentives include a $20 L.L. Bean gift card, Maine hunting and fishing licenses, Maine Wildlife Park pass, Maine state park day pass, an Oxford Plains Speedway ticket and a Sea Dogs ticket.
One week into the program, the most popular choice is the L.L. Bean gift card, with 734 people, followed by 455 people choosing a fishing license and 174 picking a Maine Wildlife Park pass.
Maine reported 202 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and two additional deaths.
The daily case rates have been relatively stable over the past five days, hovering around 200 cases per day. The seven-day average of daily new cases continues to decline, and was at 226 on Wednesday, compared to 270.1 a week ago and 451.6 a month ago.
Since the pandemic began, there have been 66,315 cases of COVID-19 and 807 deaths.
Androscoggin County, a recent hotspot for COVID-19 in Maine, had the most cases on Wednesday with 40, followed by 31 in Kennebec County. Cumberland County — the state's most populous and with nearly triple Androscoggin's population — had 30 cases, while York County logged 17 cases.
The vaccination program continues, although at a slower pace. Through Wednesday, 680,332 people in Maine have received at least the first dose of the vaccine, representing 50.6 percent of the state's 1.3 million population. Also, 646,338 people, or 48.08 percent of the state population, have received their final dose.
Maine is tops in the nation for the percentage of its population that is fully vaccinated, according to the Bloomberg vaccine tracker, followed by New England states Connecticut, Vermont, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Other vaccine trackers may give different results because they use other population figures, but all generally place Maine and other New England states at the top for vaccination rates.
On Wednesday, 107 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 in Maine, including 43 in critical care.