After battling COVID for a year, the first day of spring brings hope to many

Swapna Venugopal Ramaswamy, Rockland/Westchester Journal News
·5 min read

Seasons come and seasons go. But this spring feels different.

For starters, it’s not just the anticipated warmer weather and added sunlight that the vernal equinox will bring on March 20 – it is finally having a shot at taming a pandemic that has claimed millions of lives around the world and upended our way of life for more than a year.

Last spring, each day felt worse than the day before. This spring brings tangible hope.

Many believe the availability of vaccines will bring a semblance of normalcy in the coming months. Schools are making plans to bring students back full time. Sports are making a comeback, and, unlike last year, summer camps are available for enrollment. Restaurants are opening up at higher capacity. With older Americans getting vaccinated at a brisk pace, children can finally look forward to hugging their grandparents after more than a year.

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Steve and Emelia White outside their home in Spring Valley
Steve and Emelia White outside their home in Spring Valley

For others, travel may be on the cards in the not-so-distant future.

“In the therapy room, people are cautiously optimistic, but also afraid to give up their hunkered-down positioning. It’s almost as though we’ve gotten used to it,” said psychologist Jennifer Naparstek Klein. “Some are afraid to change what they’re doing – it’s kept them safe thus far. Others are clamoring to travel, to have normal summer plans, to get out on courts and fields, to bike and run.”

It was a tough winter

Emerging from a snowy winter – one where we avoided restaurants and eschewed the usual outlets for entertainment and enjoyment – has been especially hard.

“Many people made lemonade from the lemons," said Klein, who specializes in child and family psychology and serves as clinical director at the Counseling Center in Bronxville. "They went in search of new ways to enjoy their leisure time and to keep themselves healthy and active and social.”

Others suffered she noted, adding that depression is often at its most intense during the winter months. "Winter 2021 was more difficult for so many.”

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Spring 2021 is bringing renewed optimism.

Steve White, who lives in Spring Valley, NY, said the availability of vaccines has been the biggest factor in his optimism for spring – especially with the news that most of his elderly friends are now vaccinated.

“My family and I, we feel like we can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.

White’s also hoping to get his social life back – and maybe even hug a friend when saying goodbye.

“Until now, even if you got together, you're standing six feet apart, you're wearing masks. And then you kind of wave at the other person, like they're on an ocean liner, going away,” he said. “So it's been kind of a very strange alienating experience.”

Maria Colaco with two of her three kids.
Maria Colaco with two of her three kids.

For Maria Colaco, a mother of three children, ages 16, 8, and 3, the news that her school district is considering bringing students back full time has been welcome.

“The family’s closer, our meals are together. Everything's together. That’s amazing,” she said. “And then the other hand, I don't know if people were meant to be together all the time for this long.”

Colaco, a freelance digital marketer, said while her kids have been able to participate in sports, she was excited for them to return to in-person classes and the socialization it brings.

Another joy: One set of fully vaccinated grandparents will be visiting them next month.

She's also hoping to carve out some time for herself.

“For me as a mom, I love having moments to myself where I can just process my thoughts or even just read a book," she said. “So I'm just looking forward to having a schedule and a routine and some sort of normalcy.”

Michelle Nicholas with son Michael and mother Fran
Michelle Nicholas with son Michael and mother Fran

Spring would mean a greater degree of freedom for Michelle Nicholas, who lives with her elderly mother and 15-year-old son in Mount Vernon.

Nicholas, executive director of Girls Inc. Westchester, hopes to get her mother vaccinated by the end of the month. Her son, who suffers from asthma, has been kept at home for the entire year. The family decided not to take a chance with the hybrid model the school was offering out of health concerns.

“Once my mother gets vaccinated, my son will feel safer socializing with his friends,” she said. It will also mean that her mother would be able to travel to see her two other children and visit her native Guyana.

“She hasn’t seen my siblings in more than one year,” she said.

Jenn Castelhano, the director of constituent services for state Sen. Pete Harckham, is another who is hopeful that spring brings a return to fulltime school for her kids. Her district, Lewisboro, is considering that option.

“I work from home, and my husband and I rotate our schedules around to make that work. Somebody's got to monitor and make sure someone's signing into their zoom lesson,” said Castelhano, a mom to a kindergartner and a first grader. “We're doing that plus doing our own meetings and it can be a free-for-all. There’ve been plenty of meetings that I've had additional, quote unquote staff members join.”

Psychologist Harris Stratyner said thanks to the vaccine, his patients are beginning to see the brighter side of things.

“I'm starting to see my patients change," said Stratyner, who also teaches at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. "And they are now cautiously optimistic, when before they were completely and utterly depressed and pessimistic."

One call confirmed his assessment.

Stratyner, who treats many celebrity clients, said he recently received a phone call from a patient upset about getting stuck in a midtown traffic jam.

“I thought, things might be moving in the direction of getting back to normal.”

Swapna Venugopal Ramaswamy covers women and power for the USA Today Network Northeast. Click here for her latest stories. Follow her on Twitter at @SwapnaVenugopal or email her at svenugop@lohud.com

This article originally appeared on Rockland/Westchester Journal News: COVID pandemic feels like it's ending, spring brings hope