For the past two months, I’ve been filling you in on how I’m re-adjusting my life after receiving both of my COVID-19 vaccine doses. Last week, I finally returned to the friendly skies after 15 months. More importantly, I finally visited my father in person again. Even more importantly, I joined him for his doctor’s appointment where he received his own second COVID-19 vaccine dose.
Indeed, what a time to be alive.
In April 2021, I got both of my COVID-19 vaccine shots. In June 2021, I boarded an airplane, stayed at an Airbnb, and even hopped on trains.
Pre-pandemic, I took luxuries like air travel, hotels and Airbnb’s, restaurants, in-person shopping, and just general communal events for granted. From the early days of the pandemic until last week, I avoided crowds, shifted to 100% work-from-home, switched all my shopping to online, and let my memories of pre-pandemic “normalcy” become quite distant. And even though I got both of my COVID-19 vaccine shots in April, I still exercised plenty of caution in advance of this month’s first post-vaccination vacation.
Even now, I still worry about being around in crowds. I still worry about vaccine hesitancy hardening into anti-vaccine stubbornness among a large enough segment of Americans to keep our herd immunity below the threshold we need to end this pandemic sooner rather than later. I still worry about whether “vaccine lotteries” and other incentive programs will really work in mitigating any epidemiological blowback from dropping mask mandates, social distancing enforcement, and other health safety rules so quickly.
Yes, I know: I’m a worrywart. Still, I got on that damned plane, checked into my Airbnb, and even got on trains to visit my father for only the second time since he returned home following his heart surgery and initial recovery at a rehab center. I tried my best to continue best practices, especially when I was with my father in Orange County. Even though it was stressful and worrisome at times, I’m just so glad I finally made it.
What was it like at the airport, and what was it like to be on an airplane again?
Quite frankly, I was incredibly grateful for my COVID-19 vaccine shots, and for the remarkable potency of these vaccines, as I was traipsing through the soon-to-be-renamed Harry Reid Airport. Though most of my fellow travelers were adhering to best practices, let’s just say that I spotted a little more than enough “rebels without just cause” to vindicate my decision not to fly until I became fully vaccinated.
But at least once I boarded the plane, airline staff made sure that everyone was masked. I tried my best to remain calm, and I gradually calmed down once I reminded myself that I was vaccinated and wearing a N95 mask. Due to COVID-era health safety rules and a recent spike in drunk flyer altercations, no alcohol was served on board, and other food and beverage offerings were more limited than most of my pre-pandemic flights.
When I arrived at San Diego Airport, I at least noticed a higher amount of compliance with health safety rules. Yet on the day of my departure, I spotted a few more not-properly-masked travelers at San Diego Airport. Still, it was heartening on both days to see so much overall adherence to best practices.
What was it like to eat out and shop in person?
Shortly after arriving at my Airbnb, I was hungry for dinner. I tried ordering online, but the order got canceled due to a system glitch. While walking at the nearby beach, I decided to muster the courage to just go into the village and find a place for dinner.
I found this cute pizzeria off the main street that was open, yet wasn’t too full. I grabbed a table outside. Once my water and my other special beverage arrived, I eased my way into the rest of my dinner experience. The staff were doing a great job adhering to health safety rules, and the taste of the well-cooked pizza reminded me of the dining experiences I used to enjoy before March 2020.
A little later, I decided to try something else I had not done in a long time: I popped into a nearby store to grab a couple of t-shirts to update my pandemic-era wardrobe. Fortunately the store had light traffic, so I felt less panicked about going in and picking some shirts.
In the days following my first night out, I stepped into more stores, and I tried more restaurants. The most stressful experience was at a big-box store my dad wanted to visit near his house in Orange County, as I was trying my best to adhere to the “traffic flow guidance” while some others were bobbing and weaving all over the place. Eventually as the trip wore on, I regained some general confidence in doing more of what I used to do so regularly before everything came crashing down last year.
How about my dad’s second COVID-19 vaccine shot?
Fortunately, my dad’s doctor’s office was pretty quick to process him and get him into “the jab room” for his second Moderna dose. He took it like a champ, as he went ahead with our post-jab luncheon at a nearby food hall after the big event.
Over the weekend my dad did experience some pain in the arm where he had his vaccine shot, and he did experience a mild fever. Yet within 72 hours, it all subsided. As of this morning, he’s feeling much better. By the end of next week, he will also become fully vaccinated.
I’ve been so worried about my dad since the start of this pandemic. He had made it out of the rehab facility just days before news broke on COVID-19 spreading in nursing homes. Throughout the darkest days of the pandemic, I felt like such a failure for not visiting him. Yet at the same time, I knew it wouldn’t be wise to travel to his house when COVID-19 was spreading so rampantly.
I still worry about him sometimes, particularly now that the “Delta variant” is spreading here in the U.S. Hopefully, he’s making it out again just in the nick of time.
What was it like to take the mask off?
I was already starting to experiment with the current CDC guidelines as I tried walking in my community’s outdoor spaces maskless, shortly after I became fully vaccinated. Basically, I was preparing myself for the even bigger experiment that I was about to try in California.
When I first walked down to the beach near my Airbnb, I didn’t just take my mask off (once I made sure there wasn’t a big crowd nearby). I got my feet wet in ocean water for the first time in 15 months. I walked and jogged along the beach. I took in the sights and sounds of the Pacific Ocean that has always played such a critical role in my life.
About 36 hours later, I took a train down to another beach that I never stopped at before. I pulled out both my phone and my big camera to snap photos and shoot video. I again got my feet wet. I marveled at the waves, the surfers, the rocks, the tidepools, the bluffs, and all the other sights and sounds that I missed for so long.
For me, it wasn’t just about the periods of time when I removed my mask outdoors. It was about experiencing one of my all-time favorite stretches of California coastline. It was about experiencing a locale in real life, not just through a virtual reality app. It was about rediscovering more of the great outdoors, and about remembering the great reasons why I’ve loved to travel.
So what’s next?
Now that I’m home again, I’m continuing to walk to the pool maskless. But considering Nevada’s lower vaccination stats and the ongoing threat of new variants like “Delta”, I’ll probably continue to keep my masks on hand for outings that involve indoor stores and other indoor public spaces. Yet at the same time, I’m looking at airfares again and preparing for another summer outing or two to visit my dad.
When I first planned my COVID-19 vaccine journey, I thought about what my future would be like. Now, the future is starting to become my present. While it’s not always easy to reacclimate to this COVID-19 vaccine era world of reopenings, I’m getting ready for more rediscovery.
While this pandemic remains pretty far from over, at least we have hope. And now, that hope has moved beyond the horizon and into a multitude of pharmacies, doctors’ offices, mobile clinics, and many more locations near us.
If you have further questions about COVID-19 and your health, check Immunize Nevada for more information on vaccine availability in your area, check Nevada Health Response for testing in your area, and check Nevada 211 for more health care resources. If you’re in need of additional aid, check the Nevada Current’s and Battle Born Progress’ resource guides. If you can afford proper treatment and you are fortunate enough to help others in need, please donate to larger operations like Direct Relief and Mutual Aid Disaster Relief, and to local groups like Three Square. And for goodness sake, please maintain best practices to help stop the spread.
The cover photo was taken by me.