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D.C. Residents Navigate Their Return To Social Life As Restrictions Are Lifted

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

And it is a good morning here in America. We have spent many Sundays over the past year and a half during this pandemic sharing with you the bad news, the loss and pain of what COVID-19 has wrought. But we think it's important to tell you when things are getting better, and they are getting better. Vaccinations are up. Deaths and hospitalizations are down. In a moment, we'll hear from infectious disease expert Dr. Carlos Del Rio about our progress and the things that could get in the way, but first, here on the East Coast, vaccinated people are venturing out for the first time unmasked. And a warning to our listeners now - the voices you will hear might make you smile. Here's Jenny Gathright from member station WAMU.

JENNY GATHRIGHT, BYLINE: Over the past year, Michele Hall and Emily Wilson had to get creative about hanging out. Michele lives in Prince George's County, Md., just outside D.C., and Emily lives in Baltimore. They set up FaceTimes and phone calls. And when they saw each other in person, they did so outdoors. Here's Emily.

EMILY WILSON: We've gotten food and eaten in a park. We got food and ate in our cars next to each other in a Safeway parking lot.

(LAUGHTER)

GATHRIGHT: That changed last weekend. The two are fully vaccinated now, so they went out in Baltimore to celebrate Michele's 29th birthday, and they documented their experience.

MICHELE HALL: OK, so we just got to The Bluebird cocktail bar. This is Michele. Emily, as soon as we sat down, ripped her mask off.

WILSON: OK, I didn't rip it off.

GATHRIGHT: A majority of people in the D.C. region have gotten at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine. And the CDC says it's safe for fully vaccinated people to do pretty much anything. But, of course, it comes with confusion. Like, is it really OK to take your mask off?

HALL: I mean, I guess I'm going to have to take mine off to drink, but at what cost?

GATHRIGHT: Krysten Copeland celebrated her 31st birthday last year by herself.

KRYSTEN COPELAND: We just had a Zoom party. I fell asleep over my cake.

GATHRIGHT: For her 32nd, Copeland was fully vaccinated and out in D.C., celebrating at a rooftop bar with a relatively new friend of hers, Ashley Robinson.

ASHLEY ROBINSON: I'm saying yes to everything because I had to say no to everything last year. So this was, like, new experiences, new friends, just, like, being out with a, like, revitalized outlook on life.

GATHRIGHT: But Robinson recognizes that getting fully back into the social swing of things might take some time.

ROBINSON: Even when I, like, run an errand these days, I feel like I have to rest for a few hours afterwards.

GATHRIGHT: For Copeland, her vaccine means she's putting herself back out there.

COPELAND: I want to start dating again. I stopped for a very long time, so...

GATHRIGHT: Last weekend, Helene Holstein also met some friends at one of her favorite D.C. bars to celebrate reaching full vaccination.

HELENE HOLSTEIN: We were definitely not the only group of friends who hadn't seen each other in a while. I could hear multiple tables just drinking, laughing, having fun.

GATHRIGHT: Holstein, who's 31 years old, says the combination of the pandemic and growing a year older makes her want to focus on cultivating joy in her life outside of her job.

HOLSTEIN: It sounds simple, but, you know, fun is going to be just a huge priority.

GATHRIGHT: Mayra Mejia, a 34-year-old resident in Northern Virginia, has also been considering her social priorities after getting the vaccine. She's feeling like she wants positive vibes only.

MAYRA MEJIA: We survived something super traumatic, and the last thing I want to do is surround myself with people that make me feel bad.

GATHRIGHT: In Baltimore, Michele and Emily ended the night watching the second season of "A Black Lady Sketch Show" on HBO. Well, Emily did. Michele was asleep.

HALL: I was kind of sad there was, like, not a lot of fanfare. Like, we just...

(LAUGHTER)

HALL: But we just, like, saw each other, and we were like, oh, hey. And it was just, like, so regular.

WILSON: Yeah, regular-degular (ph).

GATHRIGHT: The pandemic isn't over. Many people haven't been vaccinated. Many people are dealing with loss - loss of a loved one, loss of their health, loss of a job. But in this region, it has gotten much safer for many people to do the regular things again, like ending the night at your best friend's house asleep on their couch. For NPR News, I'm Jenny Gathright in Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.