For the first time since January 2020, I’ve been invited to a party.
“Please only come if you are fully vaccinated,” reads the invitation, in language that seems to have replaced the more traditional plea to bring snacks or to BYOB.
Naturally, there’s still a lot of trepidation. It almost feels taboo.
A friend, whom I haven’t seen since before the pandemic, has decided to throw a small gathering for other fully vaccinated friends in a few weeks, recognizing that it’s finally safe to expand our social circles again.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control it’s now okay for fully vaccinated people to be indoors or outdoors, at events large or small, without social distancing and without masks.
The reality of the U.S. vaccine program is that most of my friends in their 30s, 40s and beyond are, like me, fully vaccinated. That means it’s been at least two weeks since we received our second dose.
In many places, you no longer need an appointment to get a shot. A brewery in my neighbourhood recently held a drop-in clinic where you could get a dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, along with a free beer. All you had to do was show up.
I’ve struggled with whether to write about this, knowing these realities are a privilege that family and friends in Canada can’t yet experience because of access to vaccines or case-driven restrictions where they live.
You only need to look at the horrors unfolding in India, Nepal and elsewhere to know that the pandemic is nowhere close to over for most of the world, which makes the situation in the U.S. feel particularly jarring.
But vaccination is the way out of this, and so I want to share what happens when it becomes widespread.
Across most of the U.S., the remaining restrictions and capacity limits for businesses are disappearing rapidly.
By early June in Washington, D.C., the final caps on nightclubs and bars will be gone. No 25 per cent occupancy limit, or distanced seating, matching plans in cities and states across the country.
A full-fledged return to normal in the next four weeks is on the table. You will be able to sit at a bar again, or go to a packed concert or cheer in the stands at a football game.
My friends are making summer plans for indoor weddings and flying off to normal-sounding vacations — albeit, without leaving the country.
The party invite I received is far from the exception. There are invitations and e-cards for “vaccine celebrations” for sale online.
In most places, the trend toward the complete removal of restrictions has happened because case numbers have declined substantially, and rapidly, as vaccinations expand.
Most jurisdictions have waited until they feel it’s safe to do so, taking baby steps along the way. This isn’t being driven by pleas for liberty or anti-lockdown tirades, and effectively explains why the CDC waited before updating its mask guidance for the fully vaccinated. Even then, there are plenty of experts who think it’s still too early.
To be clear, there have always been some states with looser restrictions, and there have always been people who’ve defied reality and acted as though there was no pandemic. For that, the U.S. has paid an incredible price in the form of 585,000 dead, and counting.
There are millions more Americans for whom normality will never truly return, having lost a relative, a friend, or a livelihood.
For the first time in the pandemic, Immunity through vaccination is delivering on the promise of true freedom, incomparable to blind pandemic defiance. For the vaccinated, there is now an ability to live life, with minimal risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19.
Don’t believe me? A panel of vaccinated American epidemiologists recently told Vox that they’re comfortable returning to many pre-COVID-19 activities, and say their confidence will only grow as overall case counts decline.
It’s also not the wild west.
Masks will still be required on planes, trains and busses. It’s hard not to think that retailers and various states will be slow to repeal mask requirements, as a way to provide comfort to unvaccinated customers and employees, in an environment in which vaccination is not easily proven.
There are also questions about the possibility of so-called breakthrough cases, in which fully vaccinated people contract the virus, as several New York Yankees players have. In those cases, symptoms seem to remain mild or non-existent, but of course, there are questions about the risk of further transmission.
The CDC has warned that should things suddenly trend in the wrong direction — increased cases, breakthrough variants or evolving science — the masks could come back on, and restrictions could return.
And of course, there are still things that I, as a fully vaccinated person, can’t do, like travel easily back to Canada to see family and friends.
There are also things I’m not sure I’m quite ready to do, like eat indoors in a restaurant full of unmasked strangers — show me to the patio for now, please.
That will likely change in the coming months, as personal confidence and science evolve, and as cases continue to decline and more people get vaccinated.
But these early steps forward have shown that the things that felt like they might forever vanish from our grasp are in fact closer than we might realize.
This past weekend, I had what for me has been my most meaningful experience since I became fully vaccinated: I held a friend’s pandemic baby for the first time.
So party invites are just the beginning. Across the U.S. there’s a sense that, for the first time in more than a year, normal might be possible again.
Jackson Proskow is Washington Bureau Chief for Global National.View link »