PORTLAND: Isolated by the pandemic, older adults were hard hit by loneliness caused by restrictions intended to keep people safe. Many of them sat out summer reunions, cancelled vacation plans and missed family holiday gatherings in November and December.
In states with older populations, like Maine, Arizona and Florida, health officials worried about the emotional and physical toll of loneliness, posing an additional health concern on top of the virus.
But that’s changing, and more older people are reappearing in public after they were among the first group to get vaccinated.
Those who are fully vaccinated are ready to get out of Dodge without worrying they were endangering themselves amid a pandemic that has claimed more than 540,000 lives in the United States.
“Now there’s an extra level of confidence. I am feeling good about moving forward,” said Ken Hughes, a 79-year-old Florida resident who is flying with his wife for a pandemic-delayed annual trip to Arizona in April.
Plenty of older adults are eager to hop on a jet to travel. Others are looking forward to the simpler things like eating at a restaurant, going to a movie theater or playing bingo.
Sally Adams, 74, was among several older people who showed up for “parking lot bingo” in Glendale, Arizona. She felt safe because she’d been vaccinated and because she was in her car at the first bingo event in more than year.
Once she fulfills the time to reach peak immunity, she plans to indulge in little things like eating out. Both her and her husband, who is also vaccinated, have only done takeout. Now, they feel like it will be OK to even eat indoors — as long as it’s not crowded.
“We’ll probably go in and take the farthest table from other people just to be on the safe side,” she said.
Indeed, many older adults are taking a cautious approach, especially when the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declined to ease recommendations for travel.
Frequent traveler Cindy Charest was so excited about the prospect of jetting away for the first time in more than a year that she posted an airplane emoji with a photo of her being vaccinated on social media.
But she’s taking a wait-and-see attitude after the CDC recommended against nonessential air travel, for now.
“I think I got prematurely excited about it,” said Charest, 65, of Westbrook, Maine. But she’s ready to jump when the time comes. She’s watching for changing guidance.
Others are also cautious.
“We’re still in the thick of it,” said Claudette Greene, 68, of Portland, Maine. “We’ve made a lot of progress but we’re not done with this.”
Kathy Bubar said she and her husband are completely vaccinated but are in no hurry to push things. The 73-year-old Portland resident is planning to wait until fall before planning any major travel. She hopes to go on a safari in December.
“My goal in all of this is to not be the last person to die from COVID. I’m willing to be patient and take as long as it takes,” she said.
The Griffins were also cautious before they were reunited with their granddaughter.
Bill Griffin, of Waterboro, didn’t dare have close contact with family members until after being vaccinated because he has lung disease, heart disease, kidney disease and high blood pressure, all factors that pushed him into a high-risk category for COVID-19.
“Everybody wants to live for the moment, but the moment could have been very deadly. We listened to the scientists,” he said.