A return to their carefree, pre-pandemic visits appeared within reach, tantalizing Stacey Graves and her boyfriend with promises of coffee in the cafe and sunshine on the patio.
After getting her second dose of a coronavirus vaccine, Graves felt ready to brave the long bus ride to the rehabilitation facility where he lives. They could meet only masked and outdoors for 45 minutes, per the hospital’s policy. But as infections plunged in the spring, the rules seemed destined to loosen.
A feeling of perilous instability now pervades the couple’s time together. As the hyper-contagious delta variant threatens her modicum of comfort, Graves is reevaluating whether the trips are safe. And she misses the simplicity of their restriction-less visits.
“I don’t have that now. And I don’t know when I’m going to,” said Graves, 64. “And I’m very angry.”
Specifically, she’s furious at those eligible to get vaccinated who refuse, citing misinformation or a desire to make a political statement. Graves, who lives in New York City, said she’s more understanding of those who worry the vaccines were rushed to market or people of color whose communities have been historically mistreated by medical professionals. But Graves said she worries about getting long-term symptoms if she contracts a rare breakthrough infection of COVID-19.
An unwelcome resurgence of the coronavirus has caused a groundswell of impatience, frustration and even rage from Americans who got their shots months ago toward those whose resistance won’t budge. States are reimplementing mask requirements, corporations are delaying their returns to the office and support is building for more coercive ways to tamp down the virus’s spread, including vaccine mandates.
Watching it all, the vaccinated are emphasizing that it didn’t have to be this way. Some officials are sending a similar message.
“It’s time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks, not the regular folks,” Alabama Republican Gov. Kay Ivey said this month. “It’s the unvaccinated folks that are letting us down.”
The ranks of the immunized include about half of the country’s population, with children younger than 12 still ineligible. Administered doses have climbed in the past week as daily infections hit roughly 70,000 to match the peak of the spring surge. The country still has not met President Joe Biden’s goal of getting at least one dose into 70% of adults by July 4.
Resistance to vaccination appears to have solidified. A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found 29% of Americans say they are unlikely to get the shots – an increase from April, when 24% said the same. In some corners, hesitancy to get inoculated has transformed into outright hostility.
Mitch Rackovan, 32, said he feels a similar anger, but toward unvaccinated Americans. Last year, his son Alex had to have a drive-by third birthday party. After Rackovan and his wife got vaccinated in April, they were able to host two normal parties for him this year.
About 25 guests came to the couple’s Cleveland-area home on each of two days to celebrate with Mario and Luigi-themed cupcakes and balloons. Alex received a giant, stuffed Mario as a gift. The gathering felt almost normal.
Now Rackovan said he feels like the ability to give his two unvaccinated children meaningful in-person experiences is in question. His family had been visiting relatives and friends and spending time at county fairs. They planned to take the kids to a bounce house coming to town in late August.
But Rackovan said if cases start surging in his area, he’ll feel forced to pull back his children from crowded events. That prospect fuels his anger at people who he perceives as “flaunting” their lack of vaccination even as nearly 400 million doses have been distributed in the United States with few serious side effects.
“A lot of my frustration really comes from the way it’s going to affect my kids and the things that they can’t do,” Rackovan said. “And if we have to go through another year of my son wearing a mask again throughout school, I was really hoping we wouldn’t have to do that – that he could have a normal year.”
In light of data suggesting the delta spreads as easily as chickenpox, mask mandates and vaccination requirements have become more widespread. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week urged vaccinated people in high-transmission areas to put on their masks again. Public and private employers – including the federal government, Facebook, Uber and The Washington Post – are telling their workers immunization is now a condition of their employment, with some companies providing an alternative option for regular coronavirus testing.
Nevada and D.C. revived previous indoor mask mandates as officials in several other states said they highly encouraged, but would not require, the face coverings. The moves prompted pushback from the Republican governors of Texas, Arizona and Florida, who maintained opposition to mask and vaccine requirements.
Steven Moore, who lives in a suburb of Philadelphia, said he long has been in favor of vaccine mandates. While he’s sympathetic to the legal and ethical questions around immunization requirements, he said he thinks more people would roll up their sleeves for the shots if their access to restaurants, concerts or air travel were otherwise limited.
After his own vaccination, Moore spent a fairly normal spring and summer visiting stores and eating at restaurants with his family. In June, he and his wife vacationed with six friends sharing a condo in Key West, Fla.
Moore, 38, said he’s not sure he would do that now as hospitalizations and deaths rise. His 7- and 9-year-old kids are supposed to go to Disney World in the fall, but he said he may rethink that trip if the virus is still surging.
“The thought that that stuff could all disappear again is really maddening,” he said.
Moore feels confident that he or his wife would be fine if they got a breakthrough infection, and he has been going maskless in stores when not with his kids. But he worries about the long-term effects on his unvaccinated children. That concern fuels his anger at the unvaccinated, particularly those who are avoiding the shots to make a political statement or attempt to demonstrate toughness.
“To be selfish about it like that,” Moore said, “is hindering the rest of us from going back to living normal lives.”
Like many other times in recent months, Moore visited a store Friday. But this time, he did it while wearing a mask.