COVID-19 vaccine gives shot at normalcy to Mississippians

Published 7:38 am Saturday, March 13, 2021

It’s been a year since Beth Hemeter has been able to hug her 87-year-old father despite seeing him often, but now that they have both gotten their second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, that may change.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidelines Monday detailing what is safe for fully vaccinated people to do.

Hemeter, who owns Imagemaker Photography and Buddy’s, a bar on Delaware Avenue — two businesses deeply affected by the virus — said the pandemic has taken far too much from just about everyone by now.
“It has made us miss things that used to be so normal,” Hemeter said of the coronavirus pandemic that began a year ago tomorrow. “Early on people didn’t take this as seriously as I think it is, and I think we have come full circle now.”

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The CDC says people who are fully vaccinated can gather indoors without a mask or social distancing, can visit indoors with unvaccinated people from a single household who are at a low risk of COVID-19 — without a mask or social distancing. They also have no more need to quarantine or get a COVID-19 following a known exposure if the person they came into contact with was asympto-matic.

The CDC defines a “fully vaccinated” person as someone who, more that two weeks prior, got both doses of either Pfizer or Moderna or the single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Though the fully vaccinated can experience a slice of pre-coronavirus life, there are many instances in which the CDC recommends taking precautions.

The CDC said fully vaccinated people should still wear a mask and social distance around people with increased risk for severe COVID symptoms, wear a mask when visiting unvaccinated people from multiple households, avoid medium to large crowds, get tested if experiencing symptoms, follow the guidance of individual employers and follow the CDC’s previous travel guidelines.

Pike School of Art director Calvin Phelps fits the bill of a fully vaccinated person, having received his second dose of the Moderna vaccine more than 14 days ago.

“I think it is fantastic, actually,” Phelps said of the new CDC guidelines. “When I got the shot, I felt a sense of relief, like things were beginning to get back to normal.”

Phelps said he was recently with a co-worker working late, when they realized they were both fully vaccinated. He said it was freeing to be able to take his mask off in front of his coworker for the time in months.

“I am encouraging everyone in my office to get vaccinated so we can finally have a safe environment without masks,” he said.

He said something that is equally as important as following guidelines is to make sure people understand the vaccine is safe and effective.

“There were people I knew that were hesitant, but I have had not problems at all, so they are thinking about getting vaccinated now, and the more people who do, the fewer chances we all have of getting sick,” Phelps said.

Phelps said he had some hesitancy about getting the vaccine himself, so he listened to doctors and did his own research.

Not everyone is completely happy with the CDC.

Bright Minds Learning Center owner Betty Spurlock Johnson, who got her first shot and is waiting on her second, said she lost a lot of trust with the agency due to conflicting messages during the pandemic.
“Once I get a second dose I am still going to continue to wear my mask out in public,” she said. “I am going to have common sense. You need a mask on. You don’t need to go to any gathering because you don’t know who has gotten their shots or COVID.

“The CDC says you can visit with other people who have been vaccinated indoors without a mask or physical distance. How are people supposed to know who’s been vaccinated or not? … I don’t get it. I will just continue to mask up and do what I have been doing staying safe.”

Despite the relaxations, Hemeter plans to keep her mask on.

“I will wear my mask. It doesn’t bother me, and if it helps other people, there is no reason not to,” Hemeter said.

As for the hopes of a return to pre-pandemic life, Hemeter is tempering her expectations.

“I personally don’t think this is ever going to go away,” she said. “I don’t think we will ever go back to what was normal.”