Daily Times (Primos, PA)

Now vaccinated, older adults emerge from COVID hibernatio­n

- By David Sharp

PORTLAND, MAINE » Bill Griffin waited more than a year for this moment: Newly vaccinated, he embraced his 3-year-old granddaugh­ter for the first time since the pandemic began.

“She came running right over,” the 70-year-old said after the reunion. “I picked her up and gave her a hug. It was amazing.”

Spring has arrived with sunshine and warmer weather, and many older adults who have been vaccinated, like Griffin, are emerging from COVID-19-imposed hibernatio­n.

From shopping in person or going to the gym to bigger milestones like visiting family, the people who were once most at risk from COVID-19 are beginning to move forward with getting their lives on track. More than 47% of Americans who are 65 and older are now fully vaccinated.

Visiting grandchild­ren is a top priority for many older adults. In Arizona, Gailen Krug has yet to hold her first grandchild, who was born a month into the pandemic in Minneapoli­s. 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 over Zoom and FaceTime. “It’s very strange to not have her in my life yet.”

The excitement she feels, however, is tempered with sadness. Her daughter-in-law’s mother, who she had been looking forward to sharing grandma duties with, died of COVID-19 just hours after the baby’s birth. She contracted it at a nursing home.

Isolated by the pandemic, older adults were hard hit by loneliness caused by restrictio­ns intended to keep people safe. Many of them sat out summer reunions, canceled

vacation plans and missed family holiday gatherings in November and December.

In states with older population­s, like Maine, Arizona and Florida, health officials worried about the emotional and physical toll of loneliness, posing an additional health concern on top of the virus.

But that’s changing, and more older people are reappearin­g in public after they were among the first group to get vaccinated.

Those who are fully vaccinated are ready to get out of Dodge without worrying they were endangerin­g themselves amid a pandemic that has claimed more than

540,000 lives in the United States.

“Now there’s an extra level of confidence,” said Ken Hughes, a 79-year-old Florida resident who is flying with his wife for a pandemic-delayed annual trip to Arizona in April. “I am feeling good about moving forward.”

Plenty of older adults are eager to hop on a jet to travel. Others are looking forward to the simpler things like eating at a restaurant, going to a movie theater or playing bingo.

Sally Adams, 74, was among several older people who showed up for parking lot bingo in Glendale, Ariz. She felt safe because she’d been vaccinated and because

she was in her car at the first bingo event in more than year.

Once she fulfills the time to reach peak immunity, she plans to indulge in little things like eating out. She and her husband, who is also vaccinated, have only done takeout. Now, they feel like it will be OK to even eat indoors — as long as it’s not crowded.

“We’ll probably go in and take the farthest table from other people just to be on the safe side,” she said.

Indeed, many older adults are taking a cautious approach, especially when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declined to ease recommenda­tions for travel.

Frequent traveler Cindy Charest was so excited about the prospect of jetting away for the first time in more than a year that she posted an airplane emoji with a photo of her being vaccinated on social media.

But she’s taking a wait-andsee attitude after the CDC recommende­d against nonessenti­al air travel, for now.

“I think I got prematurel­y excited about it,” said Charest, 65, of Westbrook, Maine.

But she’s ready to jump when the time comes. She’s watching for changing guidance.

Others are also cautious. “We’re still in the thick of it,” said Claudette Greene, 68, of Portland, Maine. “We’ve made a lot of progress, but we’re not done with this.”

Kathy Bubar said she and her husband are completely vaccinated but are in no hurry to push things. The 73-year-old Portland resident is planning to wait until fall before planning any major travel. She hopes to go on a safari in December.

“My goal in all of this is to not be the last person to die from COVID,” she said. “I’m willing to be patient and take as long as it takes.”

The Griffins were also cautious before they were reunited with their granddaugh­ter.

Bill Griffin of Waterboro, Maine, didn’t dare have close contact with family members until after being vaccinated because he has lung disease, heart disease, kidney disease and high blood pressure, all factors that pushed him into a high-risk category for COVID-19.

“Everybody wants to live for the moment, but the moment could have been very deadly,” he said. “We listened to the scientists.”

 ?? THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? Baseball fans gather in the Bullpen Club at George M. Steinbrenn­er Field before a spring training exhibition baseball game between the New York Yankees and the Toronto Blue Jays in Tampa, Fla.
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Baseball fans gather in the Bullpen Club at George M. Steinbrenn­er Field before a spring training exhibition baseball game between the New York Yankees and the Toronto Blue Jays in Tampa, Fla.

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