Older Americans among the 1st to enjoy new CDC guidelines

Older Americans, among the first people to be vaccinated, will be among the first to enjoy new CDC guidelines.

"To be able to go to the dining room, to be able to go for a van ride, to be able to sit outside on a nice day with your family, these are all big changes," said Catherine Scott, administrator at The Redwoods, a retirement community in Mill Valley.

The Redwoods has about 500 residents and staff, and with 90 percent of the people vaccinated, activities are resuming.

After meals in their rooms for a year, residents have the option now of picking up entrees to take to their room, or eating in the dining room with a roommate.

If their companion is not a roommate, they must maintain six feet of distance.

The facility is going beyond CDC guidelines, but caution has served it well, not one infected resident during the pandemic.

Two friends, who went out to a movie on Monday, were picking up meals to eat together, freedoms that would have been unheard of just a few weeks ago.

"I don't want to live with a mask on for the rest of my life," said resident Lynn Gregory, "and I  want to get back to normal as soon as we can."  

So far, families are not allowed indoors to visit, but a garden area has been set aside.

If a resident ventures off the property, they are no longer required to isolate on their return. 

"People are saying hey we made it, it's getting better, we're almost at the end and they really see the light at the end of the tunnel," said Scott.

Monday's advice from the CDC says vaccinated people don't have to quarantine or get tested after COVID exposure if they don't develop symptoms.

Also, fully vaccinated people can visit with other fully vaccinated people indoors.

And vaccinated people can socialize indoors without masks or physical distance with unvaccinated people if they are from a single household and are at low-risk of COVID-19.

For 91-year-old Sylvia Schwartz, full vaccination means reunions with her great-grandchildren, ages 2, 6, and 7.  

'They all remember me and it was wonderful, " said Schwartz who was able to resume her weekly dinner at her granddaughter's house, not far from her apartment at The Redwoods.

"They're my delight, they're delicious, and now I can see them and they can see me and get to know me."

For a year, Schwartz could visit with her family in their yard, or hers, but never getting too close.

"Our 2-year-old son can't keep his hands off her, so as soon as she arrived at our house, he ran to her and gave her the biggest hug," said grandaughter Nira Doherty. "And he was pretty close to her the rest of the afternoon."

More than 59 million Americans have gotten at least one vaccine dose, helping to drive down cases, hospitalizations and deaths.

Infectious disease experts are also reassured. Data shows people who are vaccinated pose virtually no transmission risk to others.

"Hugs should happen, " said Dr. Monica Gandhi, UCSF Infectious Disease Specialist. "This was the whole point of vaccines, to get back to close human contact. We are primates. We are social animals, we want to see each other."

That is seconded by Scott, who says fully reopened dining halls will be a big turning point at The Redwoods.

"For many, a highlight of the day is walking to the dining room and back, seeing hteir friends, saying hello, seeing what's going on, so dining is a really important expeience for all of us."

For Schwartz, the resumption of weekly family dinners is indescribable.

"It just felt heavenly, it was so wonderful," she said, "and the greatest therapy for an old person is hugs from young, beautiful, healthy children."

There was only one snag on that first outing, which Schwartz and Doherty laughed about after Schwartz drove away.

"We forgot to give each other a hug when she left because we haven't hugged each other in a year," chuckled Doherty, "and now we can!"