Post-vaccine life—what’s next?

by Steven Felschundneff |

Friday evening in Memorial Park, two couples from Pilgrim Place sat down to enjoy an evening meal together—in person and in public. Not exactly “stop the presses” kind of news, but Bonnie and Rex Britt, with Lew and Mary Fry have discovered some new found freedom thanks to the coronavirus vaccine.

“I am delighted that things are gradually opening up and delighted they [Pilgrim Place] took such good care of us,” Mr. Fry said.

According to the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, more than 30 percent of Claremont residents have received at least one round of the vaccine. So, if you are one of those lucky people the next question might be: Now what do we do?

Should one return to a “normal” life of getting together with friends, going to movies and out on the town? Or continue to lie low, considering that the pandemic is far from over. For most people, the right answer will be a combination of the two—a measured return to activities they love.

Mr. Britt, 87, and Ms. Britt, 78, received the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine almost two months ago but only recently began venturing out of the Pilgrim Place compound.

“Two weeks ago we were allowed to cautiously and carefully go into stores, so Rex and I have been to Stater Bros. and Trader Joe’s,” Ms. Britt said.

The couple has lived at Pilgrim Place for four years after moving to Claremont from Redlands where Mr. Britt was pastor of Redlands First United Methodist Church from 1983 to 1991, and Bonnie taught a first, second and third grade combination class in Fontana.

“Pilgrim Place did a wonderful job of getting us vaccinated early,” Ms. Britt said.

 One hundred percent of the independent living residents and staff at Pilgrim Place were vaccinated during February, Mr. Britt said. After receiving the Pfizer vaccine, the Britts experienced arm soreness but no other side effects.

As a continuing care retirement community, Pilgrim Place’s response to the pandemic was governed by Los Angels County Department of Public Health, which has strict rules.

“We were closed down very tightly for a long time, and as we began to open up we only did so because the health department said we could,” Ms. Britt said. Her husband agreed, adding that because all of the residents and staff had received the inoculation, their freedom was enhanced.

“So, we were well protected and we certainly appreciate that,” Ms. Britt said “They did an excellent job and it was proved by the fact that we had no COVID cases in independent living.”

Ms. Britt said that venturing out has been slow out of concern for their own health, but also to avoid bringing the virus back to Pilgrim Place, considering how successful they have been so far keeping the coronavirus out.

Pilgrim Place was not completely coronavirus-free, the health services and assisted living centers both had outbreaks.

“In terms of opening up, it’s been a little bit challenging for us because you live kind of afraid to go out into the big world, so that doesn’t easily go away,” Ms. Britt said.

That said, the couple did visit a son and his family last weekend and plan to visit a daughter and her family this weekend. Both live in the Laguna Niguel area.

“We are now free to visit family off campus as long as it is masked and outside,” Mr. Britt said.

The couple has been married for 10 years and shares a blended family that includes four children, three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

“Rex and I are very lucky we have four children and they are all in Southern California,” Ms. Britt said. “We are starting to see them, which is wonderful because that has been the hardest—missing our loved ones, not seeing them.”

Last summer they “bit the bullet” as Ms. Britt put it, and took a car trip to Maine, which is a family tradition. Upon their return they had to self-quarantine for two weeks with meals delivered to their door. They plan to visit Maine again this year, and look forward to returning to the theater and local restaurants.

“We are finally allowed to have dinner together with friends from here who have also been vaccinated,” Mr. Britt said.

Meanwhile, at Mount San Antonio Gardens, everyone received the vaccination on the same day from Walgreens pharmacists who administered the Moderna vaccine. It was very well organized, resident Lee Jackman said recently.

“It could not have been better,” she said. “While we were waiting, our food service came around with carts, they had cold bottled water and snacks, it was terrific.”

The Gardens follow the same strict county health standards as those at Pilgrim Place, so most residents have been confined to the compound. Ms. Jackman and her husband of 47 years, Duane, have been inoculated for a month.

“We are just now beginning to have dinner together in our dining room. Large tables that before the pandemic would have sat six or seven people are now used for just four, and the dining room has just 25 percent capacity. Residents must make a reservation for dinner each day,” she said.

“I have seen one son who went to dinner with us. We have had a family Zoom meeting each week during the pandemic, so I have seen them on Zoom regularly, but we just have not gone out. I even use Instacart for groceries.

“It’s not been bad at all, I have been in our house a lot and it’s given me a lot of creative time I otherwise would not have had,” Ms. Jackman said.

She wrote a stage play called “Bambi and Reginald’s Grand Adventure” about a “stuffed shirt and his former showgirl wife” who move to Mt. San Antonio Gardens. The play is currently in Zoom rehearsals.

She also wrote a song for CLASP students explaining the Gardens’ rules. “It’s really been a wonderful time because I would not have had that kind of creative space to work because of committee meetings and other things that I do,” Ms. Jackman said.

“I am really looking forward to having a meal in a restaurant. But because we are of the [high risk] age, we are cautious about when and where we go,” she said. “That is what I have missed the most, going out to eat.”

She looks forward to having her family visit the Gardens for a dinner. However, in the meantime they have been able to invite fellow Gardens’ residents to dine on their patio.

The Jackmans do have some travel scheduled—in June they will attend their grandson’s virtual graduation in Ashland, Oregon, and in October they are planning a cruise of the Mexican and California coast.

Although she is very much saddened by the loss of life and the families torn apart by the virus, Ms. Jackman did not find the pandemic to be a time when she missed much of anything.

“It was a very positive creative time for me,” Ms. Jackman said. “I think everyone is tremendously grateful to our CEO and the staff and all of the things they have done to make our lives easy.”

The Britts have also used the time away from ordinary tasks to reevaluate what they truly value spending time doing.

“This year of relative isolation and community inactivity has given us the opportunity to think about and discuss with each other who we are now and what we want to do in the next phase of our lives,” Ms. Britt said. “For instance, Rex and I worked in the food pantry at the Urban Mission in Pomona. We loved it, and are eager to return. There are some things we will not be doing anymore.”

Meanwhile, more and more residents have been vaccinated, with the county reporting that nearly 3,235,000 doses have been administered across Los Angeles County. Of those vaccinated, 1,057,794 people have received second doses and 25,170 people received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Every day more of our neighbors are asking themselves the question: what activities am I comfortable resuming?


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