With the surge in cases, Eric Ferraioli, of Sayville, is back...

With the surge in cases, Eric Ferraioli, of Sayville, is back to "being a shut-in," he says. Credit: John Roca

As the new year begins with yet another surge in COVID-19 cases, Long Islanders are increasingly weary of the pandemic. Many have been taking more precautions as the rate of people testing positive for the coronavirus has reached its highest level on Long Island since the spring of 2020, amid the spread of the delta variant and the even more contagious omicron variant.

Long Islanders are looking cautiously at the numbers as they weigh whether to cancel trips or big parties in the months ahead. But some are resigned to COVID-19 becoming a permanent fixture of life, and they look forward to a return to pre-pandemic life that still remains elusive.

Here are some of their stories.

What to know

With Long Island's coronavirus positivity rate at its highest level since the spring of 2020, many Long Islanders are taking more precautions.

The surge in cases is causing some to rethink travel or party plans for 2022, and to carefully monitor case numbers.

Some say that they're already trying to live their lives as "normally" as possible or are preparing for a return to relative normalcy in 2022.

 

Eric Ferraioli, Sayville

Ferraioli, 41, has been very cautious throughout the pandemic, in part to help protect his parents, who are in their 70s.

But in mid-November, before COVID-19 case numbers spiked, Ferraioli and his girlfriend traveled to Manhattan to celebrate their first anniversary together, eating at a restaurant indoors for the first and only time and taking in a museum visit.

"It felt like the nicest dinner I’ve ever been to," he said. "It felt like we were doing something together that felt normal again, just for an hour. I’d do anything to get that feeling back."

With the surge in cases, Ferraioli is back to "being a shut-in."

But he knows that can’t last forever. He’s heard experts say that even though omicron is very infectious, it also tends to lead to milder cases on average — although it can still cause serious illness in some. Maybe, he thinks, it will infect so many people that "it’s going to burn through" and, afterward, combined with the protective effect of the increasing number of people with booster shots, rates will significantly drop again.

"You hate saying it, because you want to do your part and you want to do the right thing, but you do have to come to some type of normalcy again," he said. "We have to feel that we’re OK sitting with four friends having a glass of wine."

Echoing what some scientists have said, Ferraioli believes COVID-19 might one day become roughly similar to the seasonal flu, killing some, especially the unvaccinated, but not in the massive numbers of the past two years. And just like with the flu every year, society will go on, he said.

"They’re never going to tell us it’s over," he said. "So I think you eventually have to say, ‘This is the risk. This is the reward.’ I mean, I’m not going to go to the Garden for a concert. But I think I have to get back to the point where I feel I’m living a normal life again."

Lisa Edwards, Port Jefferson

Lisa Edwards.

Lisa Edwards. Credit: John Roca

Edwards was planning a big family gathering in her Port Jefferson backyard to celebrate her sister’s birthday on July 4. That’s six months away, but today’s high COVID-19 numbers already are making her wonder whether it will happen.

"I have to see where things are at and then go from there," she said. "If the rates are low, I’ll have it. But I’ll want to make sure people are vaccinated and that kind of thing."

The current surge caused her to scale back her Christmas dinner from 20 people to six, and to ask everyone to take a COVID-19 test. They all had received a booster shot.

"I have a mother who is in her 80s, and keeping her well-protected is what I’m most concerned and cautious about," said Edwards, who recently stopped going to the gym.

Her mother has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which puts her at higher risk for severe COVID-19.

Edwards said she had started loosening up when rates were lower, including going on vacation to Puerto Rico in August. But for the foreseeable future, it’s back to being exceedingly careful.

"Until this goes the other way, I’m going to keep my precautions up and keep my family safe," she said.

Debora Redmond, Baldwin

Debora Redmond.

Debora Redmond. Credit: John Roca

Redmond, 58, was looking forward to escaping the New York winter and enjoying time with extended family while attending her niece’s wedding in suburban Los Angeles in February. Now, she’s not so sure.

"I’m going back and forth," she said of the wedding, which so far is still on. "I’d really like to go. I’d like to get some warmth. But if ... [the COVID-19 rate] keeps rising like it is, it will have to be nixed."

Redmond said the pandemic is getting "very tiring." She’s sick of wearing a mask in public places, because "it’s very suffocating." But she does so, and it makes her nervous seeing others at the supermarket who don’t.

She doesn’t see herself abandoning masks "any time soon. There still are people who don’t adhere to the guidelines, and they still believe this is a gimmick, and nobody wants to wear a mask, so you have to protect yourself."

Before the latest surge, Redmond became a little more relaxed. She stopped wearing a mask at church, but recently started doing so again, and she noticed a lot of other congregants again donning their masks as well.

Redmond attended a wedding in the Bronx a few weeks ago, and she felt safer because New York City rules required attendees to show proof of vaccination, and everyone wore a mask.

But she and her family agreed to cancel a planned Christmas dinner in the Bronx that would have included at least 20 people. It was just her and her boyfriend on Christmas.

"We just felt it was safer," she said.

John Locascio, Long Beach

John Locascio.

John Locascio. Credit: John Roca

Locascio never considered canceling a trip to Mexico, where he’s traveling in a few days, because of the rise in COVID-19 numbers.

"I’ve had all my vaccines. I’m 70 years old," he said. "How much longer am I going to live?"

Locascio said he wants to enjoy life while he can — taking precautions like mask-wearing and getting a booster shot, but not isolating himself.

"I don’t think I’m going to get it," he said of the coronavirus. "I’m not going to put myself in a position to get it. But I’ll do the best I can. I still want to enjoy the remaining life I have."

Locascio said he and his girlfriend likely will dine indoors at some point while in Mexico, something he’s done periodically in Long Beach at a diner that has tables that are well-spaced.

"I just want to do what I would normally do, within reason," he said.

Katherine Brito, Holtsville

Katherine Brito.

Katherine Brito. Credit: John Roca

Brito, 29, a makeup adviser in a store, would rather not work. "I have a 3-month-old at home, so I’m scared," she said.

But, Brito said, she and her husband, a barber, have to continue working, no matter how high the COVID-19 numbers are, because they have to support their son.

At the store where Brito works, some customers refuse to wear masks.

"If we tell them, they get mad," she said. "They say that they’re vaccinated."

If a customer doesn’t have a mask on, "I help them from a 6-foot distance," she said.

Brito was speaking outside a CityMD in Farmingville, where she had waited in a long line to get tested for the coronavirus after she began having lower back pain, chills, sweats and fatigue following a Christmas Eve gathering in Ronkonkoma after which three family members tested positive. She ended up testing positive as well.

Her family kept the gathering smaller than planned — 10 people — but it made her wary of future get-togethers. A small family gathering for New Year’s Eve was canceled, and "if we plan to get together [later in the year], we’re going to get a test" beforehand.

Lisa Caravella, Medford

Lisa Caravella with son Jack and daughter Abby.

Lisa Caravella with son Jack and daughter Abby. Credit: John Roca

Caravella, 46, and her family are being cautious amid the COVID-19 surge, avoiding big events and crowded restaurants. But her biggest fear isn’t that she or her teenage children will contract the virus. It’s that the coronavirus spike will return their classes to online-only.

Daughter Abby, 14, is in high school, and son Jack, 18, is in college.

During the months of remote learning, "Their emotional well-being at home was not optimal," Caravella said.

And, she added, "They were absolutely not learning as much. It almost seemed as if everyone had given up and it was just busy work."

Caravella believes the mask rules at her children’s institutions help keep them safe.

Even so, she is willing to have them take the small risk of exposure in class to avoid what she fears would be the emotional harm of a return to remote instruction.

"I think they’d survive COVID," she said. "But I don’t think they’d survive another lockdown."

Robert Vazquez Jr., Bellport

Robert Vazquez Jr.

Robert Vazquez Jr. Credit: John Roca

For Vazquez and his wife, who is immunocompromised, 2022 will be about watching the COVID-19 numbers and deciding when it’s safe to venture out.

"It’s all up to my wife," said Vazquez, 48. "She’s the one that would get really sick. Me, I’d get sick and, whatever, I’d be all right. She has the low immunity. It could kill her. If the numbers are down and she feels comfortable," they’d be more relaxed.

The couple began eating out again indoors in restaurants in the late summer, but "as soon as we started hearing about delta, I thought, ‘Oh my God, here we go again.’ "

Vazquez is frustrated when he sees people at the store and other public places without masks.

"Nobody wants to put a mask on," he said. "But it’s not about you. It’s about looking out for everybody else. … When we go out and there are people walking around with no mask on, I’ll tell her, ‘Let’s just leave.’ I don’t need her getting sick."

In December 2020, his wife contracted the virus and "had it really bad," with difficulty breathing and a loss of taste and smell that lasted two to three months, he said.

And "we’ve had a lot of people who died from it," including a 21-year-old family friend who had asthma.

The couple isn’t vaccinated, because of worries that the vaccine could harm them, and because they’ve heard that people who are vaccinated are still getting sick and dying of COVID-19, Vazquez said.

But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, serious negative effects from the vaccine are very rare, and COVID-19 hospitalization rates are eight times higher for unvaccinated versus vaccinated adults. Death rates are 14 times higher for unvaccinated people, compared with those considered "fully vaccinated," and 20 times higher compared with people who have received a booster shot, the CDC says.

Vazquez said that as long as COVID-19 numbers remain high, they’ll stick to watching Netflix at home rather than going out.

"You’re afraid to go anywhere," he said.

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