Christine Goulet

Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

‘It was taking everything you know and having to completely change it.’

Christine Goulet heard rumblings that her school might close for two weeks last March when the pandemic reached Maine, but she didn’t believe it would actually happen. Goulet, a second-grade teacher at Biddeford Primary School, said school administrators directed staff to prepare materials for at-home learning, just in case.

“I was honestly, like, ‘There’s no way that is going to happen in this day and age. That’s just absolutely crazy,'” said Goulet. “And then next thing you know it was full-fledge in motion.”

The Friday before schools closed, Goulet, 44, had a doctor’s appointment. An intern from the University of New England was supervising her class. Around lunchtime she got a text from the intern saying the school was moving to remote learning.

“I was just baffled,” she said. “I read it four or five times.”

Goulet spent the weekend frantically texting colleagues and planning for what remote teaching would look like. The next few weeks were a blur. She worried about whether her students’ learning would come to a halt and felt guilty for not getting to say goodbye in person. Then two weeks turned into the rest of the spring semester.

When Goulet finally went back to her classroom to pick up supplies, she said it was like emerging from a bunker into the real world.


“It literally looked like what you see in the movies when people have vacated an area,” she said. “Kids’ water bottles were on their desks. Clothing was on hooks. Everything just stopped and that was probably the most jarring moment, coming back to school, getting some of my stuff and seeing my classroom in full disarray.”

Many of the games and materials she would use with students in person were no longer relevant. She had to totally rethink how she did her job.

“It was taking everything you know and having to completely change it, because you can’t do it anymore,” she said.

A year later, Goulet is back at school full time and has gotten her first dose of a vaccine. Safety precautions remain, but she said it’s worth it to see her students.

“The light is showing at the end of the tunnel a little bit,” she said.

— By Rachel Ohm


Dustin Tucker

Photo by Gregory Rec

His budding Hollywood success came to a ‘crashing halt’

If Dustin Tucker made a movie about his career this last year, he might call it “The Unraveling.”

A stage actor who frequently appears at Portland Stage Company, Tucker, 41, was embarking on a promising movie career when the pandemic stopped him cold. His credits include “Patriots Day” and “Chappaquiddick,” and he had his first red-carpet experience on Feb. 27, 2020, for the opening of “Spenser Confidential” in Los Angeles with Mark Wahlberg.

“That was very cool,” he said.

The next week, Tucker was back East making a horror film with Jeffrey Dean Morgan and Cary Elwes outside of Boston – also very cool. He was doing exactly what he trained and studied to do, and was enjoying Hollywood-level success. Then on March 12, just as Tucker finished filming his part in “The Unholy,” production of the horror movie shut down and the real-life drama began.

“I went from ‘Wow, this is awesome,’ to everything just coming to a crashing halt. Like everybody else, I was in shock for a long time,” said Tucker, who lives in Falmouth with his partner, Peter Marro, and their son. “I just went into survival mode – my kid’s not going to school anymore, so I will become a dad and am no longer an actor. And that was fine. But it wasn’t fine. It didn’t take too long for me to realize it’s a big problem when your whole career is gone.”

He said people on the movie set were confused and worried. There were rumors an actor who had been sick might have had COVID-19. Crew members had starting using wipes to clean surfaces, but no one was wearing masks. When he departed the set, he hugged one of his co-stars and fist-pumped everyone else.


“I remember some of the leads talking about how they were not sure they were going to be able to finish the film – and they didn’t. They shut it down right after that,” he said.

The shutdown lasted into the fall, though Tucker had completed his work in March.

He was out of work for exactly one year. On Thursday March 11he joined the production of a reboot of the TV show “Dexter.” It’s just two episodes, but he’s acting again.

— By Bob Keyes

Adrienne Shibles

Photo by Brianna Soukup

An email, a canceled tournament and a year of pain

Practice had just ended for Bowdoin College’s women’s basketball team and head coach Adrienne Shibles was sitting behind her office desk on March 12, 2020, when the email from the NCAA arrived.

The remainder of the Division III national championship tournament, which was supposed to continue the next night at Bowdoin’s Morrell Gymnasium, was canceled. Shibles sent a text message to her captains, telling them to gather the team in the training room.


And then she and assistant coach Megan Phelps made a long walk down a short flight of stairs to break the news.

“The hardest part was looking at seniors and knowing they had just lost their opportunity to achieve their goals,” said Shibles, who believes her team – which had lost in the national title game the previous two years – would have won the national title if the games had been played. “It was crushing. It was hard to even comprehend, to get our minds around the weight of the situation and what it meant and what we lost. In some ways, I just parked it for a while.”

It wasn’t until August, when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and undergoing treatment, that Shibles really began to deal with the pandemic’s impact on a personal level.

She knows canceling the games was the right thing to do.

“It feels a little selfish to talk about the pain and I think that’s why for so long I resisted dealing with it. When people are dying, you don’t want to be talking about losing a chance to win a championship. It feels so trite.

“Yet,” she added, “when you love a team so deeply, and we were so tight and connected so deeply, it hurt. … I wish we had more time to sit together and deal with it.”


But they didn’t. The college gave them a chance to have a final meal together and then the team members went their separate ways as the campus closed.

Shibles said she is cancer-free now and feeling fine. She’s back coaching, but the end of the 2020 season will always hurt.

“There is a deep sort of pain,” Shibles said. “And it’s not about having the trophy on the shelf, but the opportunity that was stolen from those girls.”

— By Mike Lowe

Jean Ngabo Segasinde

Photo by Gregory Rec

The pandemic brought brief job uncertainty: ‘I have a big family to support.’

Jean Ngabo Segasinde got the news at what he thought would be a typical staff meeting.

One year ago, he was working at a transitional home for young men who were leaving Long Creek Youth Development Center in South Portland. He learned that day that the program would shut down in just one week because of the looming COVID-19 pandemic. The sudden closure immediately told him this virus would be a serious threat, but he did not worry for his own safety.


“Often I’m not afraid of challenges and difficulties and adversities,” said Segasinde, 65. “I know they come, they leave me stronger than before, they teach me something. That is because of faith.”

Instead, he worried about how the possibility of losing his job might impact his family.

Segasinde escaped violence in his native country — now called the Democratic Republic of Congo — in the 1990s. He lived in Rwanda for years but was eventually forced to flee again. He came to the United States in 2012, while the rest of his family waited in Uganda. He gained asylum status in 2017, and has been trying ever since to bring his wife and seven children here, a process that has cost more than $5,000 so far.

Fortunately, he was able to transfer to a different job in the social service agency where he works, delivering groceries to people who are homebound or quarantined.

“I have a big family to support. … The position is enough for them to continue to go to school and be healthy,” he said.

The shutdowns reached his family in Uganda shortly after they took effect in the United States. Segasinde said his family managed in the fall to get the medical assessments they need in order to join him in Portland. But months later, they still have yet to arrive. The global scale of the pandemic has complicated an already difficult immigration process and delayed visa processing.


“It’s an added problem to other problems that were there,” he said.

The delays have caused his family to lose hope. But not Segasinde.

“I know they will come one day,” he said.

He has faith.

— By Megan Gray

Noella Rocheleau

Photo by Derek Davis

Isolation was ‘hard to swallow, but we can’t all do what we want to do.’

Noella Rocheleau was a gift, born on Christmas Day in 1929. Three of her four older brothers died in the flu epidemic of 1918.


So she understood how serious a pandemic could be.

“We’ve had this before,” she said, “but it was not well known.”

Rocheleau, 91, lives in a third-floor apartment at 75 State Street, an independent and assisted living facility in downtown Portland. She moved in three years ago, from her longtime home in Auburn. Her husband had died five years earlier. They met at an ice rink in Lewiston and loved to play golf. In winter, she would ski and he would not.

Rocheleau immersed herself in group activities at her home: board games, bingo, trivia, bus excursions and putting contests. Her daughter and son-in-law visited regularly, as did two granddaughters and old friends from their golf club in Poland.

All of that stopped suddenly last March when the facility closed to visitors and shuttered its movie theater and dining room.

“That was hard, but you learn to live with it,” Rocheleau said. “If (the virus) starts spreading in a place like this, it would be terrible.”


Residents were encouraged to remain in their apartments, where staff delivered meals, and mask use was required in hallways. Two cases were detected at 75 State Street, but neither led to an outbreak. Many other senior living facilities in Maine were not spared.

“They were very strict, and I’m so thankful that they were,” she said. “Because they’ve hardly had any cases. It was for our own good.”

It hasn’t been easy living in isolation.

“Sometimes that’s hard to swallow, but they have 150 people here, so they have to take care of us,” she said. “We can’t all do what we want to do. You’re like family. If someone is ill, you don’t yell or shout or sing that day.”

Not until summer could her family meet with her outdoors, on a patio off the dining room, masked, of course. Otherwise, they would call or connect via Zoom. In late October, she was able to attend the wedding of her older granddaughter in Windham.

“There were only 20 of us, but I did see them there,” she said. “There was a lot of hugging.”


— By Glenn Jordan

Amey Lewin

Photo by Derek Davis

‘I felt like all of Portland was in our store’

At the start of the week before the pandemic shut down Maine, life was normal for Amey Lewin, customer service manager at the Riverside Hannaford supermarket in Portland.

By the end, it was a blur.

Customers came in droves, clearing the shelves of toilet paper and hand sanitizer and canned goods. Carts overflowed as people stocked up in order to stay home. There wasn’t a palpable sense of panic, but it wasn’t like a normal pre-storm rush either.

“I felt like all of Portland was in our store at the end of the first week,” said Lewin, 41, who lives in Gorham.

After 25 years with Hannaford, Lewin was accustomed to busy days and constant change, but this was all new. Before long, there were Plexiglas barriers installed at registers, social distancing stickers stuck to floors, and her co-workers’ faces were hidden behind masks.


Still, it wasn’t until her 9-year-old daughter’s school extended its two-week closure — first for a few weeks, then for the rest of the year — that Lewin grasped just how much life was about to change.

“That’s when we started to realize this isn’t getting better and we’re not going back,” she said.

There were other moments, too, some small and some large, when the gravity of the pandemic hit Lewin hard: When her sister died in May and the family couldn’t have a proper funeral. When she had to give up date nights with her husband. When she couldn’t get together with friends.

Unlike many others across Maine, Lewin couldn’t work from home, so she focused on serving her customers and keeping herself and co-workers safe. The threat of the virus lurked in the back of her mind, but she learned to put her faith in science and safety guidelines. When grocery store workers were celebrated as heroes, she felt a greater sense of community.

“This is just what we do, but it’s definitely nice to have people recognize we are out here every day taking care of them,” she said. “I still get thanked every day when I’m here.”

— By Gillian Graham


Ryan Bailey

Photo by Ben McCanna

‘I know all about fear. You never know what someone else is living with.’

Ryan Bailey doesn’t pay close attention to the news, so when the pandemic reached Maine a year ago, it barely registered with him.

He went to work. He went home. And in between, his energy was spent trying to stay drug-free.

It wasn’t until the Portland Recovery Community Center was forced to close its doors temporarily that Bailey realized what was at stake. He could no longer drop in and talk to staff and volunteers and visitors about their shared struggles. Those everyday conversations that helped him walk the line evaporated.

“It was so important for me,” he said of the center, a hub for hundreds in various stages of recovery. “Before I found it, I couldn’t even figure out the bus schedule.”

Bailey, 34, grew up in Reading, Pa., but has lived in Maine for the last two years. He followed his brother here in hopes of getting clean and he has succeeded.

The pandemic has been hell on people with substance use disorder. The combination of forced isolation and addiction has proved deadly – a record 502 Maine people died from drug overdose in 2020, the most ever.


Bailey knows he could have been on that list. If he hadn’t had a year clean by the time the state shut down, things might have been different.

But Bailey kept to his routine. He’s a public works employee for the city of Portland, so he never lost hours or income, like so many did. Five days a week, he gathered trash and recycling – a job he said he’s grateful to have. He connected via Zoom with others in recovery, trading basement coffee for socially distant connection.

Masks were hard at first. He didn’t like the idea of being told he had to do something. But soon he realized it was more about being considerate of others.

“As an addict, I know all about fear,” he said. “You never know what someone else is living with.”

Amid the uncertainly, he said he was never tempted to start using drugs again.

“I found a way to just keep it moving,” he said.


— By Eric Russell

Sara Robinson

Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

‘We had no idea how much it was going to change everything’

The first rumblings of the coming storm — a new virus spreading in a major Chinese city — arrived in Sara Robinson’s office as 2019 rolled into 2020.

“We had no idea how much it was going to change everything,” she said.

Within weeks, Robinson and other epidemiologists at the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention were prepping for COVID-19’s arrival. Unlike for most people in Maine, it was the Jan. 21 news of the first U.S. case 3,000 miles away, not the state’s first case seven weeks later, when Robinson knew “things were going to change dramatically.”

Once the virus did reach Maine, Robinson, who directs the Maine CDC’s infectious disease epidemiology program, transitioned from planning to action.

“A lot of times that’s easier because you know if there are concrete steps, you know what you need to do next,” said Robinson, a veteran of the 2009 H1N1 influenza outbreak.


But easier doesn’t mean easy.

Her pre-pandemic staff of 24 swelled to roughly 200 during the fall/winter surge. The team’s many responsibilities include tracking and publishing daily cases, deaths and hospitalizations, contact tracing new infections, detecting and responding to outbreaks, and keeping tabs on ever-changing federal guidance. That’s on top of monitoring more than 60 other infectious diseases (from hepatitis to Lyme) that afflict Mainers.

A top adviser to Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah, who has become the public face of the pandemic in Maine, Robinson logged as many as 95 work hours a week when Maine’s daily case average eclipsed 600, but now she works closer to 65 to 75 hours per week.

“I’ve had to have conversations with my family and friends: ‘Please don’t give up on me. I know that I am really busy, but don’t feel guilty about reaching out to me,’” she said. “I need that contact and I need people to remind me that there is more than just work.”

For now, the 41-year-old unplugs or goes hiking whenever possible. Weekends off – much less vacation – are still somewhere around the pandemic curve. She hopes the steady increase in vaccinations will help keep another case surge at bay.

“I’m optimistic, but it’s also my job to think about the worst,” she said.


— By Kevin Miller

Alexandre Bambile

Photo by Ben McCanna

His father’s phone call from Africa brought the pandemic’s global scale into focus

Alexandre Bambile had mixed emotions when he learned he wouldn’t be going to school for two weeks this time last year.

“I was a little excited, to be honest with you, and also in a little bit of a panic,” said Bambile, 18, now a senior at South Portland High School.

Then, the reality of COVID-19 began to sink in.

“I realized it was actually a thing and there were all these deaths,” Bambile said. “Then I was really sad.”

Still, he didn’t fully grasp the scope of the pandemic until April, when his father called from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the central African country where Bambile was born. His father, a business consultant, had begun working from home.


“I was like, if he’s staying home, working from home, then things are definitely changing around here and around the world,” Bambile recalled.

As remote learning stretched through the rest of the 2019-2020 school year, Bambile faced some challenges.

“I got lazy,” he admitted. “It requires self-motivation, and if you don’t have it, it can be hard to keep up.”

Bambile buckled down and adapted. Taking a cue from a rap song, he began practicing meditation, and he started reading books for pleasure and escape, something he had never done before. He also disconnected from social media, limiting the onslaught of pandemic-related news.

“I was like, man, I need a break. I don’t want to hear that anymore. I was getting buggy,” he recalled. “I started appreciating my time at home. I was thinking about my life choices and it helped me out.”

In June, Bambile stepped up to help organize a Black Lives Matter protest after George Floyd died at the hands of Minneapolis police. This winter, he’s been happy to play varsity basketball again, even though the season is shorter and players must wear masks. And he worked throughout the pandemic at Abbott Laboratories, most recently packing COVID-19 test kits for shipping.


He plans to continue his education at Southern Maine Community College, focusing on business and marketing. And he will carry with him the lessons of the coronavirus shutdown.

“Sitting still allows you to think,” Bambile said. “Even machines have a reset button.”

— By Kelley Bouchard

Erin Brennan

Photo by Gregory Rec

Extended remote learning for her son was a ‘dark realization’

Early in the pandemic, Erin Brennan and her family found comfort by getting away from Portland and mountain biking, trail running and swimming at Barker Pond in Hiram.

“We got out of the city and pretended there was no COVID,” said Brennan, 55. “It was a great escape.”

Brennan enjoyed the extra family time with her husband, Michael Horrisberger, and son Ben Horrisberger, a Portland High School junior. But as summer turned into fall and they realized Ben wouldn’t be returning to school in person, the weight grew heavier. Brennan said she remembers the day she got the email sharing the bad news from the high school principal, while her son learned the news at the same time from friends discussing it on Snapchat, a social media platform.


“It was like ‘Are you kidding me?’ Brennan said. “That was a dark realization. The reality was very challenging.”

While most high schools in Maine responded to the pandemic by putting together a hybrid form of learning where students attend in person two days a week, Portland schools have gone almost entirely to remote learning for high school students in grades 10-12. Ben hasn’t been in a classroom in person for a full calendar year.

The disconnect from classmates and teachers has been devastating for Ben and other students, Brennan said.

Ben played soccer in the fall, which gave him some socialization, but there wasn’t much in-person contact with teammates for the winter Nordic skiing season.

“It’s not getting better. We are not getting used to it. It’s getting more hopeless as the days go on,” Brennan said.

Brennan, a banker, said she’s watched her son transform from being very engaged and enthusiastic about school to having low motivation. She’s lost a lot of sleep and wonders about the long-term impacts.

They cope by solving puzzles together and playing cribbage. They always eat dinner together at a reasonable time. But a broader sense of community has been missing.

“The kids just want to go to school. We have completely altered and ripped out the structure in our community,” Brennan said. “We need to find a way to get that back.”

— By Joe Lawlor

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