For many students, parents and teachers, the past year has been a grueling, monotonous, anxiety-filled period. However, as an ever-growing number of community members get one of three COVID-19 vaccines, they are finally beginning to emerge from isolation and adapt to a new post-vaccine lifestyle.
English teacher Kindel Launer received her second-dose of the COVID-19 vaccine in late March and said she already feels more optimistic.
“I feel encouraged,” Launer said. “I feel like there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. I feel more confident at work. It’s horrible to teach and constantly have to worry about your safety, your students’ safety or who just sneezed — I’m just much more confident doing everyday things.”
Additionally, Launer said she cannot wait to be able to do many activities she has had to give up during the shelter-in-place.
“I want to go to the library and choose my own books,” Launer said. “I’d also like to go to Carmel and go window shopping. I’d even love to go to Downtown Los Altos and just go through the stores and pick out all of my own clothes … I’m excited for all the little things.”
Senior Juan Macarrein, who has been fully vaccinated since February due to a health condition, said his attitude regarding the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted since his vaccination.
“I feel like I’m much less fearful,” Macarrein said. “I started going to soccer practices because of it. I started going outside much more, and I’ve been seeing a lot more people that I haven’t seen in a long time.”
Beyond everyday local activities, Launer said she also looks forward to reconnecting with loved ones.
“My mother-in-law is 91, and her facility has been in lockdown since March 1, 2020,” Launer said. “Just last weekend she was able to see her son, my brother-in-law, and my daughter … so I’ve really been waiting to see (her).”
Both Macarrein and Launer say they are particularly excited about new opportunities for vacations. Macarrein, who has already visited friends in San Diego and Los Angeles in March, said he plans to travel more in the coming months.
Launer also intends to travel in the near future.
“I want to get on some airplanes,” Launer said. “I haven’t seen my East Coast son and his wife since November of 2019, so in my perfect world, we’d do a big Thanksgiving family dinner over there.”
Despite these plans, however, Launer said she still harbors reservations regarding her safety during the pandemic. In fact, she said she will continue to avoid high-risk activities like indoor dining and large gatherings.
“I really just want to avoid the whole thing,” she said. “If we can avoid getting this virus, let’s just avoid it — even now. I don’t want to play around with it.”
Dr. Jessica Ridgway, an Assistant Professor of Infectious Diseases & Global Health at the University of Chicago, said Launer’s attitude is a smart one.
“We need to have higher vaccination rates in the U.S. and decreasing rates of COVID cases before we start relaxing precautions,” Ridgway said.
Nevertheless, Ridgway said it is up to individuals to weigh the risks of engaging in higher-risk activities such as travel and indoor dining.
“Fully vaccinated people gathering indoors with other fully vaccinated people is very low risk,” Ridgway said. “Indoor gatherings with large groups of people who are not vaccinated or whose vaccination status you don’t know, like in a restaurant, is a little bit higher risk. That being said, I think it’s reasonable for a group of fully vaccinated people to go out to a restaurant to celebrate a special occasion.”
Despite her relatively cautious approach, Launer said she now plans to take advantage of every chance to safely experience the world after a year of self-isolation.
“I remember we were in Hawaii two summers ago at this rocky volcanic beach, and I didn’t want to get in because the water was rough, and I was nervous about slipping,” Launer said. “But now? Forget that. I’m never going to miss an opportunity to go out and have those kinds of experiences again — ever.”