Tuesday, October 26, 2021
Oct. 26, 2021

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‘A while to readjust:’ Oregonians start to return to pre-pandemic life, but with caution

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PORTLAND — When 8,000 Trail Blazers fans flocked to Portland’s Moda Center for the first home game of the playoff series Thursday evening, it marked the largest indoor crowd anywhere in Oregon in the more than 14 months since the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

Michelle Bergey, a 32-year-old lifelong Oregonian who bought tickets with her best friend to the game, was one of undoubtedly a number of fans “a little on edge” about joining crowds of people after so many months avoiding them.

“I’m ready to risk everything just so I can see the Blazers play in person and just so I can spend way too much on a beer and a hotdog,” Bergey said a day before the game, partially in jest. “They’re my favorite team. This is exactly what I want to do.”

Bergey said she planned to overcome any anxiety knowing that she’s been fully vaccinated for more than a month, everyone in the arena is required to mask up and, despite being open to more people, Moda still is only operating at 40% capacity.

Undeniably, some fully vaccinated Oregonians are throwing out their masks in social settings and diving back into their old routines full force with no reservations. But experts in the fields of psychology and behavioral science say it’s entirely natural for even fully vaccinated people to feel nervous about returning to pre-pandemic life, such as stepping into a friend’s house for a dinner party, abandoning masks, returning to the office or joining a crowd.

Some worry about protecting others in their lives, such as children under 12 who are still too young to get vaccinated or people who are immunocompromised and might not build robust protective responses to the vaccines. Others are concerned about the uncertainty surrounding future variants that could make the current vaccines less effective, or a very small percentage of “breakthrough cases” of people who’d been immunized but still have fallen ill.

Experts say people should take the time they need to reintegrate back into society.

“It’s taken us 14 months to get here. It will take many of us a while to readjust to social interaction,” said Marion Ceraso, an associate professor of practice at Oregon State University’s School of Social and Behavioral Health Sciences, in an email.

Thursday’s Blazers game at the Moda Center is just a preview of what’s to come across the state — a return to near “normal” that’s closer than some people may realize.

Gov. Kate Brown says when 70% of Oregonians ages 18 or older have received at least one shot of vaccine, she’ll lift most COVID-19 restrictions across the state, including occupancy limits on restaurants, bars, gyms, movie theaters, swimming pools, bowling alleys and spectator events.

Oregon is on pace to hit the 70% threshold in 2 ½ weeks, on June 13, although that date could shift depending on vaccination numbers in the days ahead. That’s slightly earlier than the mid- to late-June timeline announced by the state when Brown set the benchmark earlier this month.

As of Thursday, Oregon stood at about 65% of residents 18 and older at least partially vaccinated.

Fewer than 170,000 additional adults need first doses to crack the target. But the number of adults being vaccinated for the first time has been cut in half since the end of April and is now under 10,000 a day.

Hillsboro resident Katie Collins has seen the full spectrum of comfort levels among family and friends as vaccinations increase and coronavirus restrictions are lifted.

Collins, who owns the embroidery business IncredibleGood Inc., designed a pandemic-inspired patch for the still-skittish, emblazoned: “Don’t touch me.”

She also designed a more free-spirited message for the less concerned. That patch reads: “Kiss me I’m vaccinated.”

The region is replete with examples of people taking it slow despite vaccinations.

A fully inoculated Portland couple spoke of sitting down at a restaurant indoors for the first time in ages, then deciding to leave because it was just too uncomfortable.

A Vancouver dad of two kids ages 5 and 7 — and a newborn on the way — is debating whether to enroll his older two in remote school this fall even though he and his wife are fully inoculated but none of his children are.

And Portland Internetworks, a local tech company, celebrated its first in-person happy hour last Friday since March 2020. Even though 96% of staff are at least partially vaccinated and many are fully, the group still met outdoors on lawn chairs and socially distanced to ensure everyone was comfortable, said communications manager Alex Bush.

“It’s a little awkward at times getting back to the way things were,” Bush said. But given that staff have become so accustomed to social distancing, she said, “everything felt totally normal and natural.”

Bill Griesar, who teaches psychology and neuroscience at Portland State University, said the reservations some of the fully vaccinated and still cautious have about suddenly flipping the switch is understandable.

“These habits are now tightly ingrained and largely automatic,” Griesar said in an email. “For example, I no longer forget a mask. They’re in so many pockets.”

Griesar, who said he’s fully vaccinated, recently wore a mask inside a North Portland store because it felt safer and more comfortable — particularly because no one else was wearing one. Griesar noted that masks don’t only lessen the spread of the coronavirus — they’re effective against other microorganisms, too.

“I haven’t had a significant fever or sniffle in over a year,” Griesar said.

Bergey, the vaccinated Portlander who planned to attend Thursday’s Blazers game against the Denver Nuggets in person, said she also still wears a mask in indoor public places because it protects herself and those around her.

“I’m still apprehensive and I’m still taking cautious measures,” Bergey said. “Maybe because I’m vaccinated I don’t need to, but I want to.”

There are also additional benefits.

Bergey planned to wear a mask to Thursday night’s game emblazoned with the Blazers logo — a show of support for her beloved team.

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