After Ho Wing Chui got his second vaccination at the San Mateo County Event Center earlier this month, he felt different. The 74-year-old said he felt free.
In early March, Chui, who lives in the Half Moon Bay senior complex on Main Street, joined the growing ranks of people who can resume some normal activities, like gathering with friends and family. These activities remain largely discouraged to all except those fully vaccinated.
Under the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, fully vaccinated people can gather indoors without a mask with other vaccinated people or with people from one other unvaccinated household, barring any serious risk of COVID-19.
Chui became eligible for the shot because of his age. As soon as his health insurance said he could get the vaccine, he booked his first appointment for Feb. 20. On March 4, he received his second dose.
For the last year, Chui left his apartment only to go on walks or buy groceries. On Lunar New Year, which he said is the biggest holiday for him and his family, he stayed indoors with his wife and opted to video call his children, one who lived a mere 30 minutes away. Now that he has been fully vaccinated, Chui is considering visiting nearby family, like his siblings in Sacramento.
“I don’t have to stay home all the time. I can go outside,” he said. “Of course, now I will wear a mask and keep a six-foot social distance like before. But now I’m confident. I’m not afraid anymore.”
Another senior, Yongzhen Fu, 88, became fully vaccinated two weeks ago. But the woman who was known for her effusive greetings and her energetic walking has been altered by the pandemic. Fu now requires the regular care of her daughter, Ying Frink, who feels like the vaccine didn’t come soon enough.
Early in the pandemic, Fu was spending more time alone after her regular group sessions were canceled. She had a bad fall and broke her hip. Frink says she hasn’t been the same since.
“She lost everything, her physical health, her memory,” Frink said. “It’s so hard.”
Fu’s dementia had gotten so bad she would forget to eat and drink when she was home alone, causing her to lose weight. So Frink finally decided to move in with her mother.
Before the pandemic, Fu received four-hour-a-day care at the Coastside Adult Day Health Center, located on the first floor of her apartment complex in Half Moon Bay. But the center was forced to close its group services a year ago.
Walking past the center on Friday, Fu greeted the staff who were hanging up St. Patrick’s Day-themed decorations. The center was hosting a drive-by event that afternoon to celebrate the beginning of spring. Frink, eager to get her mother back in group care, asked the staff if they would be opening soon.
Natalya Alazraie, program director of the center, said there are currently no plans to reopen until there is clear guidance from the California
Department of Aging. The department’s last update was issued in September 2020 and stated that “nonessential in-home services and in-person group programs or activities” for older adults should be deferred until a county reaches the least restrictive yellow tier and has remained in that tier for a few weeks. There is no timetable for that all-clear.
Alazraie said that although group sessions have been suspended as a result of the guidance, her staff is busier than they were before the pandemic. In addition to hosting events like the one on Friday, they shifted to more one-on-one visits and moved most activities, like Bingo, meditation and physical therapy, online or over the phone.
It has been hard to watch the decline of the people she used to care for in-person, especially those whose mild dementia has turned severe, Alazraie said.
“There’s only so much stimulation they can get,” Alazraie said. “You can probably imagine … it’s hard to concentrate when you’re not communicating face to face.”
There is no clear indication that it is safe for the day health center to reopen, but the growing number of seniors getting vaccinated is giving her hope.
During the March 8 Commission on Aging meeting, Lisa Mancini, director of Aging and Adult Services in San Mateo County, reported that nearly 75 percent of people 75 or older have received at least one vaccine. And about 68 percent of those 65 or older had received at least one vaccine.
Juvensio Diaz, 76, has yet to receive his second dose, so he continues to be careful about who he sees. He was scheduled to receive his second dose on March 18.
“It’s been a hard year,” Diaz said in Spanish. “I believe the vaccine will really help and that it will give me security.”
His daughter, Alejandra Diaz, who has been caring for him every afternoon and on weekends, plans to bring her children to visit her father soon after his vaccine, and said she’s looking forward to that visit feeling normal.