CINCINNATI — For Tara Dahal and his family, coronavirus restrictions on multi-household gatherings meant a big disruption to their way of life.
"We celebrate a lot of festivals, and we have a lot of get-togethers," he said. "Since March, it was very difficult for us to go to each other and have a get-together. We did, but we were very scared and in fear."
Now that all Ohioans 16 years and older soon will become eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, he said some of that fear among his friends and extended family is beginning to wane.
Renee Mahaffey Harris, with the Center for Closing the Health Gap, described it as a collective "sigh of relief."
"People are beginning to breathe like a sigh of, 'OK, I know there are things we still need to do, but, oh, I'm going to be able to see a family member or a loved one or a friend," she said.
Harris isn't just CEO and president of the center; she's also a mother and a daughter who lost her own mother last year, when a traditional funeral was off-limits.
"We need to touch and hug and to grieve the losses that we've had this past year," she said.
But she and other health officials agree that there is no switch that will flip to make things go back to how they were before the pandemic.
"The best guidance for getting groups of people together would still be to do so outside, and if you're not able to social distance, we are going to recommend that you wear masks," said Hamilton County public health commissioner Greg Kesterman.
The good news is, he said, that even though children under 16 still can't receive the vaccine, grandparents and older relatives who are vaccinated should feel safe visiting again.
"Grandma and Grandpa can finally get back together with their children and grandchildren and hug and not wear masks," Kesterman said, as long as the teens and adults are all fully vaccinated. "Kids are, generally speaking, less likely to transmit COVID as an adult or teenager."
He recommends that masks and other preventive measures won't be necessary if two households are gathering together and one of those households has been vaccinated, unless someone in the unvaccinated household is at high risk for severe infection. If a group comes from more than two households, everyone should still follow masking and social distancing protocols.
For Dahal, he said he's looking forward to even small steps back toward normalcy.
"We feel very comfortable now," he said.
For anyone struggling to set up a vaccine appointment in Ohio, here are some tips.