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Some Southern Californians are anxious — not excited — about June 15 reopening

Nazia Siddiquei is happy that California is reopening Tuesday, June 15, because she wants the economy to be strong again.

At the same time, the Corona woman is anxious.

“I’m a little bit nervous and concerned because we don’t really know what is going to happen,” Siddiquei, 39, said. “Even though we are vaccinated, the vaccine may not protect us against some of the variants out there.”

So, for a while at least, she plans to continue wearing a mask in public places.

“I just don’t feel safe,” she said.



As the day when California lifts most of its coronavirus restrictions approaches, some are more worried than excited. Though fully vaccinated, they fear getting too close to someone who hasn’t had their shots. They may worry about their children too young to qualify for the vaccine. Or they could simply not be accustomed to crowds or being near strangers.

Wendy Wood, professor of psychology and business at USC’s Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, said it shouldn’t come as a surprise that as reopening nears, some people are filled with anxiety.

“We’ve all been through a pandemic,” Wood said. “Who thought we’d do that in our lifetime? People have felt more vulnerable than they have ever been before.”

There is reason to feel encouraged. Coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and deaths have fallen to record or near-record lows across Southern California.

And a poll confirmed that the virus strikes less fear in the hearts of people than it did early on.

In May 2020, a solid majority of Californians were very (24%) or somewhat (34%) concerned about contracting the coronavirus, according to a Public Policy Institute of California survey. A year later, the institute found that 10% were very concerned and 18% were somewhat concerned about that.

Yet variants of the coronavirus remain a sort of wild card. Then there’s the factor that many have not received COVID-19 shots.

Those things cause anxiety to come on as the masks come off, said Jan E. Stets, a UC Riverside professor of sociology and director of the university’s Social Psychology Research Laboratory, “because each one of us is not wearing a sticker that says, ‘I have been vaccinated.’”

That’s a huge concern for Erica Ruiz, a 25-year-old San Bernardino resident.

“I don’t feel comfortable if I’m around someone who I know hasn’t been vaccinated,” Ruiz said.

And in many cases, Ruiz said, one does not know if the people around them have or have not received COVID-19 shots.

That’s also a concern for workers at Centro CHA in Long Beach, which teaches three education and job training classes daily, six days a week.

Jessica Quintana, Centro CHA’s executive director, said that before the pandemic as many as 40 people at a time were permitted in the building. In recent months, the center has limited attendance to 10. Now capacity restrictions are going away.

“So we’re just a little apprehensive,” Quintana said, adding, “You can’t tell who’s been vaccinated or not.”

Quintana said that, as of Thursday, June 10, she wasn’t sure how the center would manage class sizes after reopening and was working on a plan.

“I want my staff to be healthy. I want my staff to be well,” she said. “It has been a pretty scary pandemic.”

In light of such concerns as variants and vaccination numbers that experts say remain below what is needed to halt the virus, Stets said, some believe the state is reopening too early.

But even for those who believe the timing is right, there is anxiety about the individual steps the move toward normalcy will involve, Stets said.

People will be anxious, for example, Stets said, about stepping closer than 6 feet to another person after maintaining such space for well more than a year. They are going to be anxious about giving someone a hug after hugs were taboo for so long.

“We just have to relearn how to interact with each other,” she said.

Wood said questions such as, “How close should we stand to people?” and “Should we wear masks inside?” are things people haven’t had to concern themselves with for more than a year because of public health rules. Now they will have to decide for themselves what to do.

“But keep in mind, this is a short-term thing,” Wood said. “Once we get back into old patterns, that is going to begin to feel reasonable, safe and normal again.”

To Siddiquei, the Corona woman, some places won’t feel safe and normal for a while.

“I am planning to avoid very large gatherings like concerts, basketball games and sports events where there are thousands of people,” she said. “And I am not planning on getting on a plane anytime soon.”

Siddiquei said she hasn’t been to a theater since before the pandemic, but probably will take her sons, ages 13 and 9, to a movie sometime this summer. She will wear a mask, though, and insist that her sons mask up, too, because they have not been vaccinated.

In the long term, Siddiquei said she’s concerned because her youngest son isn’t yet eligible for the vaccine and it’s not known whether he will be at some point.

Similarly, Ruiz lives with a 2-year-old niece and worries because she is not — and cannot — be protected.

“I have been vaccinated,” Ruiz said. “If I get COVID, I know I’m going to survive it.”

But, Ruiz said, “There’s always anxiety in the back of my head. I have to think about her.”

Ruiz stays at home often and avoids large gatherings.

“No concerts for me anytime soon. No clubbing.”

In Long Beach, Andy Hale avoided gatherings for many months.

It wasn’t until the first Sunday of June that he went to his first in-person church service — outdoors — since the pandemic began.

On Saturday, June 19, Hale, 79, plans to attend a gathering in Orange County — a somber memorial event to honor the late wife of a longtime friend.

“He’s been one of my closest friends since we were in the fifth grade,” Hale said of his childhood friend. “Both of them got COVID. He recovered and she did not.”

Death has surrounded him throughout the pandemic.

The coronavirus took three friends who served alongside him in the Boy Scouts’ Long Beach Area Council, Hale said. Four others died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, in his small church of 60 people, he said.

It didn’t help that, as the pandemic began to take hold across the region in March 2020, he lost his beloved wife — “the cute little girl who sat two seats behind me in the seventh grade” — for another reason.

So, Hale is apprehensive on the eve of reopening, though he is fully vaccinated.

“I am uneasy,” he said.

Yet, he said, it is time to go forward.

“Life is frightening at times and this has been tremendously frightening,” Hale said. “But we have to move on.”

Source: Orange County Register

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