Scarborough Downs racetrack is being prepared to become one of Maine’s mass-vaccination sites for COVID-19, although how soon the clinic can achieve a goal of administering 1,000 doses per day depends on the pace of vaccine deliveries to the state.

Officials at MaineHealth announced Thursday that the owner of the former harness racing track, Crossroads Holdings, is donating the facility’s indoor grandstand for use as a vaccination site for six months. Construction crews began renovating the 30,000-square-foot grandstand last week and hope to finish that work – which involves bringing the aging building up to code – by the end of January.

MaineHealth expects to begin vaccinations at Scarborough Downs as soon as that work is complete, but will only be able to administer as many doses as it receives from the state. Vaccine deliveries from the federal Operation Warp Speed to states have been disappointingly small, hampering the ability of states to vaccinate against a virus that is killing thousands nationwide every day.

“Finding a space that is centrally located and able to accommodate all the needs of a high-volume clinic is vital to our efforts to get as many people vaccinated as quickly as possible,” Bill Caron, CEO of MaineHealth, said in a statement. “This generous donation from Crossroad Holdings is big step forward in getting this pandemic under control and saving lives here in Maine.”

The Scarborough Downs track, which closed in November after 70 years in operation, is among the first mass-vaccination sites in Maine to be announced in any detail.

Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, said Scarborough Downs “ticked off a lot of boxes” needed to be a suitable site for mass-vaccination clinics. Shah said the former racetrack is spacious, has good ventilation, will have upgraded broadband capability and is accessible to those with disabilities.

Located not far from Route 1 and Interstate 95 in a facility built for accommodating crowds, Scarborough Downs also should minimize traffic on local roads and, with its expansive parking lots, could support drive-thru vaccinations in the future, Shah said.

“It’s going to be a welcome addition,” Shah said. “Being located at the cusp of two large population centers between Cumberland and York county … with the ability to conduct high throughput in a safe and effective manner, it is going to be a big (change) to kickstart our effort to get folks across the state vaccinated.”

Workers make repairs and renovations Thursday to the former grandstand at Scarborough Downs so it can be transformed into a high-volume COVID-19 vaccination clinic. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Just over 90,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine had been administered in Maine as of Thursday morning, according to the Maine CDC. That figure includes 74,760 first doses of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines, as well as 17,248 second doses in the two-shot regimen.

Maine is the tail end of Phase 1A of vaccinations focused on health care professionals, public safety workers, and residents and staff of long-term care facilities. Vaccinations of individuals 70 and older have already begun as part of Phase 1B, although demand for vaccines even within that group far exceeds supplies. Phase 1B will eventually include adults with high-risk medical conditions, those between 65 and 69, as well as some “essential” front-line workers.

But officials with the Maine Department of Health and Human Services announced Thursday that they expect to receive 975 fewer doses of vaccine next week than the 18,550 Maine receive this week. Rather than increasing weekly as vaccination campaigns ramp up nationwide, as anticipated, shipments to states from the federal government have remained relatively flat and sometimes shrunk.

Maine health officials have estimated that the state would need about 50,000 doses per week – nearly three times next week’s anticipated shipment – in order to vaccinate as many of Maine’s 1.3 million residents as are willing to get the shots by the summer.

As a result, Shah said they are still finalizing plans for mass-vaccination clinics in more populous areas of the state. Brunswick Landing, the site of the former Brunswick Naval Air Station, is another potential location along with others in Bangor and the Portland area.

“None of them is open because the supply of vaccine is nowhere what would be needed to start supporting any of these sites,” Shah said. “We hope that will be changing very soon, but I can’t predict right now which of these would be or could be the next one to open.”

MaineHealth spokesman John Porter said the network will staff the clinic at Scarborough Downs and will be ready to ramp up vaccinations whenever the supply allows. Since Monday, MaineHealth has already received calls from more than 40,000 individuals trying to make an appointment for a vaccination, far outstripping available doses.

“We are setting up for 1,000 (doses) and if the state gets us vaccines, we’ll be able to get 1,000 administered,” Porter said.

Opened in 1950 as a thoroughbred racing track, Scarborough Downs could pack up to 6,500 people into its grandstand on race days. But patronage of the track steadily declined from its heyday in the 1970s and 1980s to the point where, in 2007, the dilapidated grandstand was closed to fans.

The last live harness races were held at the track in November. Crossroads Holdings, a Scarborough-based company, has since been crafting plans to redevelop the more than 500-acre property into a mixed-use community featuring residential and commercial areas as well as a “light-industrial park.”

“Our state’s front-line healthcare workers are the true heroes and we are proud to support them,” Peter Michaud, managing partner at Crossroads Holdings and Maine Properties, said in a statement. “Our employees and business partners have really stepped up to meet these critical deadlines because we all know that this work will save lives.”

Crossroads Holdings has donated use of the space to MaineHealth for at least six months. The development company expects to be reimbursed for the cost of rehabilitating and retrofitting the grandstand, although the source of that funding wasn’t clear Thursday. Spokeswoman Diana Nelson said it was unclear how much those renovations will cost because work only began last week. The construction crews, which total about 40 people, are working seven days a week to complete the renovation.

“The conversations happened very quickly, but there was no hesitation on our part,” Nelson said.

Other states already have begun holding mass-vaccination clinics at civic centers, athletic complexes and other large spaces. However, some of those clinics have had to scale back operations and cancel appointments after learning they were not going to receive an anticipated surge in vaccine doses because the Trump administration had already dispersed the stockpile to states.

Shah and other state officials stressed that Scarborough Downs and other mass-vaccination clinics will supplement, not replace, the smaller-scale clinics that will be staged throughout the state. They said it will take a broad mix of strategies to vaccinate most of Maine’s population against COVID-19.

“With Maine’s limited and inconsistent supply of vaccine, we are distributing what we have to protect the largest number of people as soon as we can, starting with those who are 70 and older because they are most at risk of suffering or dying if they contract COVID-19,” Gov. Janet Mills said in a statement. “Sites like Scarborough Downs, where a large number of people can safely and efficiently be vaccinated, will be critical to saving the lives of Maine people, keeping them healthy, putting an end to this pandemic and getting back to normal. We will continue to examine and plan for additional sites across the state.”


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