More than half of El Pasoans 12 and older are fully vaccinated. About 70% have received at least one dose. And with summer nearly here, pandemic restrictions melting away and COVID cases at lows not seen since the earliest days of the pandemic, Americans are stepping out into the sunlight and – cautiously – into the embrace of community.

A recent Wall Street Journal headline declared it “The Great American Reunion.”

My wife and I took our kids to the El Paso Zoo on Memorial Day, and there was a feeling of excitement that was new. It was great to see so many people having a good time. It felt right. It felt good.

Camp Cohen, the first of four neighborhood water parks the city of El Paso is building, opened for the first time Saturday. Tickets reportedly sold out within two hours. We’re going to give it a few weeks for the crowds to slow before taking the plunge, but the video and photos shared on Instagram were filled with the same kinds of smiles I saw at the zoo.

It was also a sobering weekend. It was a time to honor the men and women in the U.S. armed forces who made the ultimate sacrifice and to remember the high cost of freedom. On my mind also were the sacrifices made by so many to beat back the pandemic. What we’re enjoying now wasn’t without a cost.

It’s not mission accomplished yet, but, when it is, it will be a victory worth celebrating – a parades and confetti in the street kind of celebration. Anheuser-Busch said on Wednesday that it would “buy America’s next round” of beer, seltzer or other beverage if the nation reaches the Biden administration’s 70%-vaccinated-by-July 4 goal. Not exactly the celebration I have in mind, but a hard seltzer is not a bad start. 

Of course, right now, the global COVID reality is sobering. While many developed countries have seen cases plummet as people get vaccinated, many poorer countries face a huge challenge in accessing vaccines, including Mexico and El Paso’s sister city, Juárez. And while the pandemic has eased in the U.S. and some other developed countries, it continues to rage elsewhere.

For now, the vaccines also remain out of reach of children younger than 12. Nationally, doctors have seen growing numbers of young patients with Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children, or MIS-C, although it remains rare. I was surprised to learn recently there are some children hospitalized in El Paso with the rare inflammatory condition that’s linked to the coronavirus.

There has also been some good news on the COVID front over the past couple of weeks. 

The New York Times recently reported data that suggests “immunity to the coronavirus lasts at least a year, possibly a lifetime, improving over time especially after vaccination.” And the memory B cells produced in response to infection “are so potent that they thwart even variants of the virus.”

A growing number of studies have shown the vaccines to be highly effective at preventing infections, and the few who do get infected get less sick. There’s also growing evidence that the vaccines block most transmission of COVID-19 and are effective against variants.

So we all find ourselves in this transition period. I have to admit it’s awkward. 

With most of us vaccinated here at El Paso Inc., masks are no longer required. But walking in I still get a nagging feeling that I’m forgetting something important, like pants. Am I the only one who feels like the lower half of my face is naked? A recent New Yorker cartoon depicting a “bottom of the face reveal party” summed up the mix of excitement, trepidation and awkwardness in one illustration.

After a year marked by loss, insecurity and social distance, reentry is going to require large doses of forgiveness, grace, patience and good old-fashioned politeness. People need space to mourn, to be angry or to celebrate. We’re all a bit wobbly.

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