PORTLAND, Maine (AP) – Bill Griffin waited more than a year for this moment: Freshly vaccinated, he hugged his 3-year-old granddaughter for the first time since the pandemic began.
“She came running. I picked her up and gave her a hug. It was unbelievable, ”the 70-year-old said after the reunion last weekend.
Spring has arrived with sun and warmer weather, and many older adults who have been vaccinated, like Griffin, are emerging from hibernation imposed by COVID-19.
From shopping in person or hitting the gym to bigger milestones like visiting family, people who were once most at risk from COVID-19 are starting to move on to get their lives on track. Almost 45% of Americans 65 and older are now fully vaccinated.
Visiting grandchildren is a priority for many older adults. In Arizona, Gailen Krug has yet to have her first grandchild, who was born a month after the Minneapolis pandemic. Now fully vaccinated, Krug is making plans to travel for her granddaughter’s first birthday in April.
“I can’t wait,” said Krug, whose only interactions with the girl have been through Zoom and FaceTime. “It’s very strange not to have her yet in my life.”
The emotion he feels, however, is tempered by sadness. His daughter-in-law’s mother, with whom he hoped to share grandmother’s duties, died of COVID-19 within hours of the baby’s birth. He contracted it in a nursing home.
Isolated by the pandemic, older adults were hit hard by the loneliness caused by restrictions designed to keep people safe. Many of them did not attend summer meetings, canceled vacation plans, and missed family vacation gatherings in November and December.
In states with larger populations, such as Maine, Arizona and Florida, health officials were concerned about the emotional and physical cost of loneliness, representing an additional health concern in addition to the virus.
But that’s changing, and more seniors are making a comeback in public after being among the first group to get vaccinated.
Those who are fully vaccinated are ready to leave Dodge without worrying about being in danger amid a pandemic that has claimed more than 540,000 lives in the United States.
“Now there is an extra level of confidence. I feel good moving forward, ”said Ken Hughes, a 79-year-old Florida resident traveling with his wife for an annual trip to Arizona delayed by the pandemic in April.
Many older adults are eager to get on a plane for travel. Others look forward to the simplest things like eating at a restaurant, going to the movies, or playing bingo.
Sally Adams, 74, was one of the older people who showed up for “parking lot bingo” in Glendale, Arizona. She felt safe because she had been vaccinated and because she was in her car at the first bingo event in over a year.
Once you meet the time to reach maximum immunity, plan to enjoy little things like eating out. Both she and her husband, who is also vaccinated, have only made takeout. Now, they feel that it will be fine to even eat indoors, as long as there aren’t many people.
“We will probably go in and take the table furthest from other people just to be safe,” he said.
Indeed, many older adults are taking a cautious approach, especially when the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declined to provide travel advice.
Frequent flier Cindy Charest was so excited at the prospect of flying for the first time in over a year that she posted an airplane emoji with a photo of her being vaccinated on social media.
But he’s adopting a wait-and-see attitude after the CDC recommended against non-essential air travel for now.
“I think I got excited prematurely,” said Charest, 65, of Westbrook, Maine. But she’s ready to jump in when the time comes. She is waiting to change orientation.
Others are also cautious.
“We’re still downtown,” said Claudette Greene, 68, of Portland, Maine. “We have come a long way, but we are not done with this.”
Kathy Bubar said that she and her husband are fully vaccinated, but in no rush to push. The 73-year-old Portland resident plans to wait until fall before planning a major trip. Expect to go on safari in December.
“My goal in all of this is not to be the last person to die from COVID. I am willing to be patient and take the time that is necessary, ”she said.
The Griffins were also cautious before reuniting with their granddaughter.
Bill Griffin of Waterboro did not dare to have close contact with family members until after he was vaccinated because he has lung disease, heart disease, kidney disease, and high blood pressure, all factors that put him in a high-risk category for COVID. 19.
“Everyone wants to live in the moment, but the moment could have been very deadly. We listen to scientists, ”he said.
Associated Press writers Adriana Gomez Licon in Miami and Terry Tang in Phoenix contributed to this report.