In some ways, Michaela Cavallaro feels like she’s back in March 2020.

When she does go out, she masks up and avoids crowded places like movie theaters and restaurants. But her 15-year-old daughter goes to classes at Waynflete, carefully socializes with her friends and takes driving lessons with a masked instructor. And Cavallaro has decided it’s important for her own mental health to work out at her gym in Portland.

“It’s a real balancing act between trying to keep ourselves sane, keep ourselves safe and keep some kind of forward motion in life,” said Cavallaro, 49, a writer and editor from Portland who is fully vaccinated.

As coronavirus cases surge and hospitalizations soar, Mainers are faced with constant choices about how to navigate their daily lives in this rapidly changing phase of the pandemic. With the omicron variant sweeping the country, flights and large events are being canceled, businesses are closing temporarily because of staff shortages and some schools are switching back to remote learning.

Those who have the luxury of choice have to decide whether to hunker down as they did in the early days of the pandemic or go about their routines realizing that they could catch the virus after all this time, to ax their plans or trust in their vaccinations to prevent more serious infection.

“Omicron is so extremely contagious it is like having a field that’s completely on fire,” Dr. Dora Anne Mills, chief health improvement officer at MaineHealth, told the Maine Sunday Telegram last week. “With delta, there’s a lot of fires here and there but you could walk through the fields and not get burnt. Now the whole field is on fire.”


Last spring, Cavallaro’s daughter tested positive for the virus just before she was eligible for the vaccine. For months, Cavallaro felt that her daughter, who recovered quickly and had no lingering side effects, had an extra layer of protection because she’d had COVID.

“It feels exhausting that we’ve been through this once and for a while it seemed if you got it and recovered, at least you wouldn’t get it again,” Cavallaro said. “Now I don’t feel certainty about that being the case.”

Jim Moulton, a retired educator in his mid-60s, is used to seeing few people with masks when he goes to the small grocery store near his home in Bowdoin, though he’s still as careful as he was back in the spring of 2020. He and his wife, Lu, were vaccinated as soon as they were eligible last spring, then got their booster shots this fall. They still wear masks, stick to takeout from restaurants and socialize only with a few fully vaccinated friends. They are surprised every time they see large crowds of people.

“We watched the revelry in Times Square on New Year’s Eve and sort of shook our heads and said ‘How can that be?'” he said.

Still, despite his precautions, Moulton feels in some ways that getting the virus probably is inevitable.

“That’s the new normal,” he said. “It feels like we’re trying to see the other side and beginning to wonder if and when we will.”


Anne-Marie Mastraccio, who is retired and lives in Sanford, had loosened up a bit on precautions after she got the vaccine and when cases were low. But when omicron took off, she started staying home to try to make sure she is not exposed and can keep visiting her 15-month-old grandson. She also takes rapid tests. As mayor of Sanford, she attends meetings on Zoom and tries to avoid making people take on any more risk than they already have to as they work and go to school.

“I had been feeling a lot better about things. Right now I feel like we’ve gone backwards,” she said.

In South Portland on Monday, Patrick Moynihan wore an N95 mask as he loaded groceries into his car outside the Mill Creek Hannaford. Moynihan, 70, is retired and said he has mixed feelings about the variant. He tries not to worry about it but also does what he can to protect himself.

“I think it’s unfortunate this thing has dragged on for almost two years now, and I wish it would go away,” Moynihan said. “That’s how I feel about it. I’m sorry to see so many people sick. Fortunately, it hasn’t hit my family really hard and I hope it doesn’t.”

Moynihan stays home a lot and he and his wife haven’t traveled or gone to many family get-togethers. “We just do our own thing or Zoom or phone calls,” he said. “That’s about it. We keep in touch as best we can, but we don’t get together like we used to.”

Allyn Hutton, 66, of Gorham is still masking, has been vaccinated and boosted, avoids crowded places and orders takeout if she doesn’t want to cook. She said she’s feeling “cautiously hopeful” because of reports that people can stay safe as long as they follow such precautions.


Hutton lives by herself and said she’s had limited contact with her grown children, though they did celebrate the holidays together after taking COVID tests the day before to ensure they wouldn’t be passing the virus to one another.

“We are all taking the same precautions and trying to find the balance between being safe and not totally isolating,” she said. “It’s learning to live with it, I guess.”


Joe Mekonis planned to travel to New York City this week with his wife, Sandy, and his teenage daughter Laina to see “Hamilton” for his wife’s birthday. Then the omicron variant hit Broadway, and Mekonis decided to push the trip to April. “What else could go wrong?” he remembered thinking when he booked the tickets months ago, before new variants caused surges in cases and hospitalizations.

In October, his mother died from COVID-19. She lived in the Pittsburgh area, and he had to watch her funeral on a Facebook livestream because other members of his family also had the virus. He bought a bouquet of her favorite yellow roses to honor her, and he celebrated her birthday later that month with a lobster roll that she would have loved, but he said it has taken him months to reconcile her loss. He still has not been able to gather with his siblings.

“That was a knockout punch,” he said.


Mekonis, 58, a criminal defense attorney from Saco, said his family has consistently taken strict precautions during the pandemic, opting for takeout instead of sitting down in restaurants and avoiding favorite pastimes like going to the movies. He got lax about his mask for a couple of months over the summer, but he quickly returned to wearing it everywhere. He said his 16-year-old felt isolated by remote school, and he is relieved that she can attend class in person this year, even if everyone in her recent production of “Hamlet” wore masks on stage. His family is vaccinated and boosted – and while they aren’t lightening up on their precautions, he has felt less anxious lately because he has read that omicron generally causes milder infections.

“That information makes me not ratchet up like I was in the heart of the pandemic,” he said.

Dirk Bowles, 52, walked his dog Thelma in Deering Oaks on Monday afternoon. It was the 10th day of his own quarantine after his son brought the virus home. Bowles said his wife is a physician, and his family took every precaution until all four of them were vaccinated. Once his fourth-grader got his shots, they were excited to eat out for the first time during the pandemic. Then came the positive tests.

“It’s hard to be more cautious than we have been,” Bowles said.

Luckily, the family had mild to no symptoms. Bowles, a stay-at-home dad, feels relieved to know from research and his own experience that omicron causes less serious infections in the vaccinated. The family still plans to travel to see relatives in April.

“As bad as it is, it feels a little better now,” he said.


Anthony Blake, 37, of Falmouth isn’t worried about the variant. His family is all vaccinated and Blake said that, for the most part, they’ve lived their lives as normally as possible throughout the pandemic.

For his kids, who are in the fourth, sixth and seventh grades, there have been “lots of instances of remote learning,” but Blake said they’re lucky to be going to school in person currently and haven’t had as many disruptions as students in some other districts.

“Our kids have always been super healthy and we’ve never had any medical issues really in our family,” Blake said. “We’re all vaccinated. They’re not worried. I’m not worried.”

A software engineer who has been traveling for work throughout the pandemic, Blake has seen how much has changed.

“A lot of stuff has gone away,” he said. “I think businesses in some instances have used this as an opportunity to cut services but then never bring them back. I go all over the place and all these concierge services are killed and this stuff is gone. … No more breakfast buffets. That stuff I hate.”



Are we still fighting to get back to normal? Some people aren’t so sure.

Jeremiah Coon, a McDonald’s manager from Veazie, said he expects new variants will keep arising and “it’s something we’re just going to have to get used to.”

“If we don’t, we’re going to have to keep doing all this stuff like locking down,” said Coon, 19. “I think a lot of people are really tired of doing that. They’re wanting to get back to living normally and being out and doing stuff. Especially with vaccines being so available now. Some people want to take them, some people don’t – and that’s fine. If people want to take them, that’s fine. But since they’re so readily available, I don’t think we need to take it as seriously.”

Coon, who had COVID about a year ago and hasn’t gotten vaccinated, said he isn’t taking many precautions and only wears a mask at work.

“I haven’t really been affected,” he said. “I haven’t gotten it again or anything.”

Mike Schelske and his wife, Katie, got their booster shots two days before flying to Michigan to see their parents for Christmas, but she tested positive while they were there. Schelske, 30, said his wife isolated in the basement and he avoided getting the virus.


Now that they’re back home in Portland, Schelske said he’s “a little worried” that he’ll get it, but worries more about unknowingly spreading it to others. He takes comfort in wearing a mask in stores and while walking through restaurants, but said he does feel safe going out. He ate in a restaurant last week, has worked out at the gym and wants to go to a local trivia night with friends this week.

“I am hoping this strain passes through quickly,” he said.

Zoe Keiper, 24, of Harpswell said the variant is “worrisome” though it isn’t impacting her day-to-day life too much. Keiper, who works for an IT company in Portland, said she’s usually the only person working in her office. “I don’t have to deal with the public that much – and if I do, I wear a mask and wash my hands,” she said. “But the office is pretty closed right now with everything going on. It’s pretty much just me and then if people need to, they come and go, and everyone is vaccinated.”

What was challenging was not being able to see some family members during the holidays because they had COVID-19.

“My biggest feeling is it’s just sad for some people who had to spend holidays alone,” Keiper said. “It’s definitely separating people, as we need to, but it is worrisome for … especially older people in your family. It’s hard to come together and not worry, especially if someone’s been sick at all recently.”

Staff Writer Megan Gray contributed to this story.

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