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After Vaccinations, How Do We Reconnect With Each Other? 

click to enlarge Keegan's daughter Coraline watches from afar as neighbors play - KEEGAN ALBAUGH
  • Keegan Albaugh
  • Keegan's daughter Coraline watches from afar as neighbors play

On a recent morning in early March, I took a bite of cereal and scrolled through the news on my phone. I typically spend more time skimming the headlines than I do actually reading articles. But on this day, one particular headline caught my eye, and I had to do a double-take.

"Fully vaccinated people can gather without masks, CDC says."

I stopped chewing and clicked the link to read the most recent updates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Sure enough, I found the statement that fully vaccinated people could now "visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors without wearing masks or physical distancing." After a year of physically distancing myself from others as much as possible, this news didn't seem real.

Because part of my work involves home visiting with families, I was fortunate to have already received both doses of the Moderna vaccine, and more than two weeks had passed. These new guidelines applied to me.

Wait, I thought. Does this mean I can drive to the home of my friend Marlon, who is also fully vaccinated, and give him a huge hug? Is the CDC literally saying that I can hop in my car and do that right now? Amazingly, the answer was yes.

But as much as I wanted to, I didn't grab my car keys and pay Marlon a visit. I just couldn't bring myself to do it. For the past year, my family and I had been following pretty much every bit of guidance the CDC had offered, but for the first time since the start of the pandemic, I was hesitant to follow the agency's advice. Questions swirled in my head: How were they so sure it was safe? What about the new variants showing up in Burlington's wastewater testing? Could I still pass the virus on to others, even though I was vaccinated?

Throughout the pandemic, my family has been playing by the rules. Masks in public. No hugs from grandparents. No large gatherings. We continued disinfecting our groceries even after news came out that the practice wasn't necessary. We have definitely erred on the side of caution.

Our children haven't had a playdate or visited a public playground for over a year, even though research has shown that contracting COVID-19 by going down a slide or using a swing is rare. Both kids have been in different schools since June of last year, but we have felt fairly safe with the contained environments and health practices at each location.

We've been waiting for so long for permission to gather once again with friends and family. With the recent news that all Vermonters 16 and up will be eligible for vaccines by April 19, the days of large gatherings and family barbecues don't seem that far off.

But even though there's a timeline for vaccinations, thoughts about babysitters, dinner dates with my partner, and kids' birthday parties still seem like fantasies that are light years away. After a year living mostly in isolation, how can our family move toward a place of comfort when thinking of reconnecting with others? When will we finally feel that the risks are small enough to gather with friends?

To be honest, I have no idea. Even when we get the green light from the state that it's OK to attend a large event down by Burlington's waterfront, I'm not sure whether I'll be down there pulling my kids in a wagon or sitting at home, still too nervous to invite my neighbors over for dinner. As excited as I am to watch my children play with other kids at the park, I can't even imagine it.

But I miss it. I miss bringing the kids over to a friends' house, enjoying brunch while watching everyone's children play. I miss having a babysitter come over so I can make it out to the Vermont Comedy Club to watch my partner perform while I laugh and munch on French fries. I miss it all and desire it so badly.

On the eve of the first day of spring, I went to Winooski to pick up some takeout for dinner. I arrived early, so I strolled around town for 20 minutes to soak up some vitamin D. I walked by my old workplace, the Centerpoint School, and thought about the dozens of former coworkers I hadn't seen in person for over a year. I walked past the new location of Four Quarters Brewing at the top of the traffic circle and longed for a post-work gathering with friends on a Friday afternoon. I inhaled the smells pouring out of local restaurants and fantasized about dining at one of them with my two daughters, whom I once loved to show off publicly any chance I had.

The date for all of those things is getting nearer, I'm just not sure when my family and I will actually feel ready. But when that day comes, you'd better believe there will be a lot of hugs involved.

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