The vaccine means Anita Kitchen of Huber Heights felt safe taking her 86-year-old mother, Mildred Penn, out for lunch and shopping at Hobby Lobby after a year inside. It means 18-month-old Bodhi Bramlage of Vandalia can visit in-person with his grandparents for the first time since he was an infant too young to talk.
“I felt (the COVID-19 vaccine) allowed me back my life; it gave a lot of our freedoms back,” Kitchen said.
The pandemic has increased loneliness, anxiety and depression in the population, but mental health experts anticipate people’s moods improving as they connect in-person again.
“Hope is on the horizon,” said Scott Hall, a mental health counseling professor at the University of Dayton. “I think we’re realizing that we’ve really turned the corner and I truly notice an upswing in mental health … The antidote for loneliness is connection.”
The latest CDC recommendations say fully vaccinated people can do the following:
- Visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing.
- Visit indoors with unvaccinated people from a single household who are at low risk for severe COVID-19 without wearing masks or physical distancing. For example, fully vaccinated grandparents can visit indoors with their unvaccinated healthy daughter and her healthy children without wearing masks or distancing.
- Refrain from quarantine and testing following a known exposure if asymptomatic.
For now, the CDC also recommends fully vaccinated people continue to take precautions in public like wearing a well-fitted mask and physical distancing and to take precautions when visiting with unvaccinated people from multiple households.
The easing of restrictions for vaccinated people has especially improved the lives of the elderly, those who often had to be the most cautious and isolated during the past year.
On Wednesday, Jeanette Schultz, 65, of Washington Twp. celebrated her “freedom day,” the day she was fully vaccinated against COVID-19, by going out to lunch with her best friend Sue Miller for the first time in a year. Miller is also fully vaccinated.
People are fully vaccinated a few weeks after they receive their final dose.
“I put my freedom day on the calendar (over a month ago),” Shultz said.
Joseph Bramlage, Bodhi’s dad, said Bodhi’s grandparents are excited to hold their grandson again.
“It’s been a long time,” Joseph Bramlage said. “(His grandparents) barely got to hold him before all this started.”
Bodhi was born premature and spent months in the NICU. After that, it was cold and flu season and his parents mostly kept the premature child away from others. Then the pandemic hit. This month, Bodhi’s grandparents had physical contact with their grandson for the first time in a year.
“He’s been a little shy because he really hasn’t been around anybody except us,” Joseph Bramlage said. “He started opening up a little bit more and he actually sat on their laps, and then let them come near him.”
Bramlage expects this year will be much better than last year.
“(Physical touch) has a huge curative effect for people,” Hall said.
To get through the last stretch of the pandemic, mental health experts recommend reaffirming in your mind that there is a light at the end of the tunnel and planning to take trips or visit loved ones as soon as it is safe. This will give people hope and something to look forward to, Hall said.
The first thing Peggy and Steve Seboldt, both 73, of Dayton did after getting fully vaccinated, was take a three-day trip to a vineyard in the Canton area. It was the first time they had been in a bar in a year. They’re also planning on taking the traditional family trip to New Buffalo, Michigan, they skipped last year. By then, their adult children should be vaccinated.
Jeremiah Schumm, a professor of clinical psychology at Wright State University, said it is time for people to start planning for life after the pandemic.
“People should really look at trying to anticipate and plan for reengaging socially and getting back to the socially-oriented activities that were really very meaningful to them and their mental health before the pandemic, Schumm said.
Gretchen and Richard Allen, both 76, of Butler Twp. were happy to see their two vaccinated children and six grandchildren again last weekend without wearing masks or distancing for a small birthday party. They are looking forward to a post-pandemic world where they can watch their grandchildren’s sports competitions in-person, Gretchen Allen said.
Experts say we can only reach the herd immunity necessary to roll back more precautions if most adults get the vaccine.
Steve Seboldt said he hopes it is safe to do things like travel by summer.
“We’re hoping and praying that this (pandemic) really does turn the corner and we’re going to enjoy getting out of jail,” Seboldt said.
Coming Back Together
The Dayton Daily News wants to share the stories of joy as families and friends come back together after a year of social distancing.