If someone suddenly woke up from a coma in downtown San Antonio this weekend after one year and three months of slumber, they could do nearly everything they had planned for Memorial Day weekend pre-pandemic.
Save for an occasional mask – seen on a passerby’s face or collecting shoeprints on the ground – or a closed restaurant (rest in peace Mexican Manhattan), they would have a hard time understanding what life was like under COVID-19 protocols.
This Memorial Day weekend was the first holiday since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new guidelines regarding the use of masks more than two weeks ago. Fully vaccinated people can go maskless and be within 6 feet of each other – except where required by law, business policy, or workplace guidance.
As of Friday, about 43% of adults in Bexar County are fully vaccinated. More than 1 million, more than half of the county’s population, have had at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine.
A long line of people stood on Commerce Street, waiting to be seated at Shilo’s. Even longer lines crowded the San Antonio River Walk as customers awaited their river barge tours. Alamo Plaza, even under construction and closed to vehicular traffic, was packed. Another line formed outside Ripley’s Haunted Adventure.
For some businesses, 2021 is shaping up to exceed pre-pandemic revenues.
“We are on pace for the best year we have ever had, so yeah it’s way past pre-pandemic and it’s not just us,” said Davis Phillips, president and CEO of Phillips Entertainment Inc., which owns and operates Ripley’s Haunted Adventure and other attractions in Alamo Plaza. “It’s most everyone on the leisure side. The business travel and conventions and meetings [are] not there yet but [are] starting to return slowly.”
He attributes this boost in activity to a “tremendous amount of pent-up demand” after people were forced to stay home and “all the fun businesses” were shut down.
Widespread vaccination and federal stimulus checks are also contributing to a busier-than-usual Memorial Day weekend, he said. “More people are coming than 2019 and they are spending at a higher level than we have seen. I expect that trend to continue at least until the fall.”
Our post-coma friend would start to see some signals of a pandemic if they were to venture out to larger establishments. SeaWorld San Antonio still requires a reservation as it monitors capacity and temperature checks for visitors at the door, and it recommends the use of masks, according to its website.
Six Flags Fiesta Texas also recommends masks but does not require a reservation or temperature check.
Back downtown, Geneva Ford walked slowly past the Alamo Cenotaph, reading the names of the men who died defending the Alamo during the famous 1836 battle. It’s her birthday this weekend and she’s fully vaccinated, so she decided to travel for the first time since the pandemic began last year.
“I just wanted to come here and just see what I can see – just enjoy myself with some downtime,” said Ford, who lives in Wharton, southwest of Houston.
Walking around – outside and inside buildings – without a mask feels a little odd, she said.
“It’s like back to normal, seems to me,” she said. “I’m not scared at all.”
She keeps a mask in her pocket just in case a business requires one or someone prefers one.
“I know some stores require them – I’m always prepared,” she said.
On the other side of the Cenotaph, Julie Alexander walked with her husband and two dogs, Elvis and Peanut.
The couple wear masks where they are required but haven’t as much since Gov. Greg Abbott lifted the statewide mandate in early March. The pandemic hasn’t much impacted their RV travel plans.
“When it first started, we’d stay home, but we would go to the lake a lot,” said Alexander, who is from Crandall, a small town southeast of Dallas. “Now we’re just kind of [living].”
The couple have not been vaccinated yet.
“We’ve heard all kinds of different things. There’s a lot of weird information out there,” she said. The science behind it and the side effects are her greatest concerns. Her father and father-in-law, both in their 90s, suffered strokes not long after they were vaccinated.
They ultimately survived, but it left them uneasy, Alexander said.
While the process for approval of all three vaccines available in the United States was expedited, they have gone through rigorous and extensive safety checks. The vaccines have been tested on thousands of people through different phases of clinical trials.
“The speed was not at all at the sacrifice of safety. The speed was the reflection of extraordinary advances in the science of vaccine platform technology,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos in December.
The distribution of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was temporarily paused earlier this year when it was linked to rare cases of blood clots.
“This adverse event is rare, occurring at a rate of about 7 per 1 million vaccinated women between 18 and 49 years old. For women 50 years and older and men of all ages, this adverse event is even more rare,” according to the CDC.
Fauci has said that people who receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine shouldn’t “worry very much, because just as we’ve said, it is a very, very rare event.”