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After a Year Apart, Vaccinated Older Americans Start to Return to Normal Life

    2021-3-10

    Across the United States, COVID-19 vaccinations are changing older Americans’ lives. The coronavirus health crisis forced many people in the high-risk group to be separated from family and friends for the past year.

    But today, many older Americans are visiting family members. They are eating at their favorite restaurants and visiting stores without fear of becoming severely ill.

    Two weeks after receiving her second COVID-19 vaccine shot, Sylvia Baer spent a day getting an eye examination, having her nails done and buying food at a market. Before the crisis, such a day would have been completely normal.

    The 71-year-old Baer lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and works as a college professor. She became emotional at her eye doctor’s office. It marked the first time in nearly a year that she had stepped inside a building that was not her own home for more than a few seconds.

    “I was so happy,” she said. She also commented how happy she was to walk into a food store again later that day. She bought some of her favorite sweet and salty foods.

    But the rise of new, possibly more easily spread versions of the coronavirus is causing some vaccinated seniors to return to their usual lives more slowly. And the effects of so many deaths among people they knew -- plus the mental harm that comes with months of being separated -- will not disappear soon.

    Eighty-year-old Linda Dobrusin expects to welcome three friends into her home in Southfield, Michigan. All of them have been vaccinated. The friends plan to restart a weekly card game of canasta, which they have not done since last spring.

    For many seniors, the best part about being vaccinated is being able to see family again, after missing weddings, births, holidays and other celebrations. Older Americans often face other health risks. They have felt the loss of a full year deeply.

    Seventy-six-year-old Sharon Halper of Warwick, New York expects to receive the second of her two-shot vaccination in the middle of March. Two weeks after that, when researchers say the full effect of the vaccine is reached, she plans to cook a big meal. She is going to invite her grandsons for dinner at her home.

    “I can’t wait to hug them again,” said Halper.

    Lonnie Hanauer is 85 years old. He and his wife, Bette, are leaving their home in West Orange, New Jersey this week and flying to Florida to visit their daughter. They have not seen her since November 2019, when they celebrated the Thanksgiving holiday together. Thanksgiving 2020 was the first holiday the two had spent alone, without their children, in more than 50 years.

    “When you get old, you don’t know how many more” holidays you have, Hanauer said.

    FILE - Rodney Nourse, 71, receives a Moderna coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination from pharmacist Phat Quach at Broad Avenue Pharmacy in New Orleans, Louisiana, Jan. 8, 2021.
    FILE - Rodney Nourse, 71, receives a Moderna coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination from pharmacist Phat Quach at Broad Avenue Pharmacy in New Orleans, Louisiana, Jan. 8, 2021.


    The usual becomes special

    Even everyday activities have taken on new importance for vaccinated seniors.

    People are now permitted to sit in groups of four and have face-to-face discussions inside the Pennswood Village retirement community in Newtown, Pennsylvania.

    Resident Judy Yaskin, who is 79, hopes eating together will be permitted again soon. That would bring an end to eating meals alone in her living area. She also hopes events such as speaking series and movies may also return to the retirement community.

    “Who knew that eating lunch could seem so exciting?” she said.

    Some seniors say they do not plan to return to some usual activities anytime soon. Arlene Schimmel, a 70-year-old who lives in New York City, said she would still not go to an indoor movie or a restaurant. She said she would only visit friends who have also been vaccinated.

    Such caution is understandable, experts say. Scientists are still studying the vaccines’ effectiveness against other coronavirus versions.

    The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Monday released new rules for vaccinated individuals. The health agency says vaccinated people can safely meet indoors without masks in small groups. But it added they should still wear masks in public and avoid large gatherings.

    The CDC said about 60 million Americans, or 18.1 percent of the population, had received at least one vaccine dose as of Monday. Nearly 55 percent of those individuals were 65 years or older.

    I’m Ashley Thompson.

    And I'm John Russell.

    The Reuters news agency reported this story. Ashley Thompson adapted it for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.

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    Words in This Story

    nails –n. (pl.) the hard covering at the end of a finger or toe

    senior (citizen) –n. an older person who is near, at or older than retirement age

    hug –v. to put your arms around someone to show love or friendship

    resident –n. a person who lives in a particular place

    caution –n. care taken to avoid danger or risk; a careful way of behaving