For the first time in over a year, millions of Americans are gathering for a major holiday without masks or physical distancing – safely.
But the majority of Americans still aren’t fully vaccinated, leading to the possibility of yet another post-holiday spike of coronavirus infections.
“To people who are traveling and people who have been fully vaccinated, have a great time,” said Dr. Jonathan Reiner, professor of medicine and surgery at George Washington University.
“But for folks who have not been vaccinated, you can still get this virus and you can still die. We still have about 500 deaths per day.”
While most deaths have been among the elderly and those with preexisting conditions, Covid-19 has killed more children than the flu has this past year, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Other young, unvaccinated people are suffering from long Covid or multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) – a rare but potentially serious condition that can happen in children weeks after a coronavirus infection.
So while fully vaccinated Americans relish holiday barbeques and close gatherings without masks, others are stymied – or having a hard time adjusting to normalcy.
Returning to normal isn’t so easy for some
As Americans remember those in the military who died while serving their country, this Memorial Day can be especially challenging for those finding it difficult to start returning to normal life.
“Covid has really changed our lives,” clinical psychologist Dr. Jeff Gardere said.
“Whether it’s someone they know that has Covid or someone that they know that died, or friends who talked about it or just seeing it in the media, all of those things caused everyone some sort of trauma,” he said.
“We had gotten ourselves into a very safe bubble.” But now, he said, some people “are having anxiety.”
But vacationers like KerryAnn McGregor said the renewed freedom is welcome.
“It’s a whole year of staying indoors, and now you come outside everybody is out riding their bikes, jogging, exercising, partying,” said McGregor, who was visiting Miami Beach this weekend. “It’s OK now.”
Another air travel record is expected to break
At US aiports, Monday was poised to be the busiest day of the entire pandemic – capping a record weekend of holiday travel as more than 40% of Americans have been fully vaccinated.
The Transportation Security Administration screened more than 7 million people from Thursday to Sunday. On Friday, the TSA screened 1.96 million people.
And travel industry experts say this will likely be busy summer. On Monday, United Airlines said bookings for this June through August are more than double the numbers from last year.
How Americans are spending their Memorial Day weekend
For unvaccinated, variants ‘can wreak a lot of havoc’
Generally healthy people who have been fully vaccinaated “should feel very well protected,” CNN medical analyst and emergency physician Dr. Leana Wen said.
But for those who have not been inoculated, the risk of getting infected at large gatherings remains high. “We do have more transmissible variants, and unfortunately those individuals who don’t have immunity are not protected from these variants that can wreak a lot of havoc,” Wen said.
Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber said “too many people are coming” to his scenic, coastal city.
“The virus is still here,” he said. “The volume of people that have been coming here is very unprecedented.”
Pandemic is definitely not over, WHO director says
Don’t be fooled by the holiday barbecues, parties and reopened movie theaters.
There’s still a lot of work to be done to end the Covid-19 pandemic, and any country that thinks the danger has passed is wrong, said World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
“We’re very encouraged that cases and deaths are continuing to decline globally, but it would be a monumental error for any country to think the danger has passed,” he said.
“One day – hopefully soon – the pandemic will be behind us. But the psychological scars will remain for those who have lost loved ones, health workers who have been stretched beyond breaking point. and the millions of people of all ages confronted with months of loneliness and isolation.”
But for those fully vaccinated, the loneliness and isolation are fading away. And at some popular Memorial Day destinations, those who still need a free shot could easily get one.
New Jersey launched a new program called “Shots at the Shore,” at which adults have an option of getting a Moderna, Johnson & Johnson or Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine at beaches or boardwalks.
Vaccinations sites were set up in Pier Village, Sandy Hook, Long Branch, and Asbury Park until mid-afternoon on Memorial Day, Gov. Phil Murphy said. Children ages 12 and up could get the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.
New York City, another popular destination, is sending vaccination buses to beaches and parks.
The mobile vaccination sites will be stationed at Brighton Beach, the Rockaways, Brooklyn Bridge Park, Central Park and Governors Island, among other locations, Mayor Bill de Blasio said.
“You’re going to see our vaccine buses out all over New York City the next few days,” he said.
“Go, get vaccinated, hit the beach. Real simple.”
CNN’s Naomi Thomas, Sahar Akbarzai, Pete Muntean, Greg Wallace and Aya Elamroussi contributed to this report.