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People seen adapting to virus

Data, interviews point to Americans’ desire to break free by Bloomberg | January 25, 2022 at 4:16 a.m.

Signs are mounting that many Americans in highly vaccinated places are grasping for a near-normal life, even as the most contagious covid-19 surge yet passes over.

Data from businesses and social media, and interviews across the nation show a population accommodating covid-19.

Several factors have caused people to rethink: Omicron spreads so readily that catching it can seem all but inevitable for everyone but hermits. Inoculations and previous infections lower risk of severe disease.

Recent numbers show the desire to break free: The people-connecting platform Meetup reports that RSVPs were up 22% nationally in the first week of this month compared with a year ago -- 20% even in careful New York City.

Restaurant traffic suggests that dining out lost ground when omicron hit, but it has begun to rebound in the past week. In San Francisco, mobility data shows that even with a recent omicron-period drop, residents are spending less time inside.

This is how many expect the pandemic to peter out: covid-19 remains, but becomes milder, and bit by bit, people don't let it rule their lives.

Mark Robinson, 59, has done his deciding.

"I just want to go back to being normal again," Robinson said over a beer at the 500 Club, a bar in San Francisco's Mission District where barely a stool was free on a recent afternoon.

Indeed, data from the past week shows that San Franciscans are getting out more than they did a year ago. They're still spending more time at home than before the pandemic, but 5 percentage points less than last January, according to Google Community Mobility Reports.

In Dearborn, Mich., customers at Famous Hamburger increased last month despite surging cases, and they've remained plentiful, said owner Mohammed Hider, who has gone back to normal activity himself.

"People here want to live their lives and they are going to frequent restaurants that are doing it right," he said. "We need to try to put it behind us, get vaccinated and move forward."

In the U.S., health officials last month halved isolation restrictions for asymptomatic people to five days.

Given omicron's lesser virulence and vaccines' proven power, people are acting rationally, said Elissa Perkins, director of infectious-disease management in Boston Medical Center's Department of Emergency Medicine.

In 2020, she said, following the science meant social distancing and other tactics to flatten the pandemic curve. In 2021, it meant pushing for vaccinations.

Now, "it means that we need to do our best to try to get back to as normal a world as we can, especially for the kids," she said.

Her fellow physicians tend to be risk-averse, Perkins said, "but I do feel like more and more people who have been ultraconservative in their response to covid-19, and their fear, are starting to acknowledge that it might be time to loosen up a bit."

Some are looser than others.

Jill Smagula, 44, said the two bars where she works in San Francisco's hard-partying Marina District have been "pretty packed," especially during football games.

"Everyone's vaxxed and boosted and a lot of people have already gotten it, and it's just a way of life now," she said. "Especially for people who go out in bars, it doesn't really seem like it's deterring too, too much."

Since getting vaccinated, Smagula has been going to the gym and the movies but canceled a Las Vegas trip this month. She said people are forgoing the "unnecessary kind of adventures and gatherings" -- but not bar crawls.

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