Shirley Hoffmann met her youngest great-granddaughter for just the second time on Monday in Charlotte.
It hasn’t been distance keeping her away from her family. Hoffmann, 87, lives near Asheville in Arden, just two hours west of Charlotte.
“I told my family, I can’t take a chance of getting this (virus), because then I will become a burden on you,” Hoffmann said.
Hoffmann’s husband died 31 years ago, she said. She lives alone in Ardenwoods Retirement Community with her dog.
But on Monday, she reunited with her son Scott, and his daughter’s family, including two of Hoffmann’s great-grandaughters: 2-year-old Gracie and 7-month-old Margot, because she has been vaccinated.
“It was just pure joy to come and be like a family again,” Hoffmann said.
Hoffmann is just one of many North Carolinians reuiniting with family members after long isolation due to the spread of COVD-19.
Hoffmann got both of her Pfizer COVID-19 vaccinations earlier this year. Now she and others say vaccines have given them hope and relief in the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s kind of been a long haul,” Hoffmann’s son Scott said. “Because we were very vigilant about being careful and not being exposed.”
That meant cutting down on visits to his mom, especially as COVID-19 spread worsened last year. Now, most of his family is vaccinated. That means Hoffmann can come to Charlotte more regularly — in fact, she’ll be back by the end of the month when Scott’s brother visits from Montana.
Rising vaccine supply
More than a quarter of Mecklenburg County residents are at least partially vaccinated against the coronavirus. Still, the county’s rate lags behind the state rate. In North Carolina, 31.5% of state residents are at least partially vaccinated compared with 27.1% of Mecklenburg residents as of Friday.
And 22.2% of state residents are fully vaccinated, compared to 17.9% of Mecklenburg County residents.
Nearly four months after the first COVID-19 vaccine arrived in North Carolina, everyone age 16 and up in the state is now eligible to sign up for COVID-19 vaccine appointments.
Local vaccine providers have seen a recent increase in vaccine supply and expect that trend to continue. On Thursday, Atrium Health announced eight new first-dose vaccine clinics at Bank of America Stadium for the month of April, including two one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine clinics.
And the county announced this week it will open mass vaccination site at Camp North End for a clinic on Saturday.
Still, local health experts say that even with rising vaccination rates, people need to continue masking and following social distancing guidelines.
“Vaccinations are super important — I would encourage everyone to get one,” Atrium infectious disease expert Dr. Lewis McCurdy told reporters last week. “But I don’t think it gives us the freedom to do what we want to do. We need to continue to be vigilant in our choices.”
People are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after their second dose of the Pfizer or Moderna shots, or two weeks after their Johnson & Johnson vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And according to CDC guidelines, fully vaccinate people can begin to gather indoors with other fully vaccinated people without masks.
But even fully vaccinated people should avoid large gatherings and continue to wear masks in public, according to the CDC.
Even with the vaccine, 73-year-old Sevone Rhynes is not quite ready to get back to life as normal.
“I do feel a lot more comfortable,” he said. “…But I’m still not willing to be in a crowded place.”
Rhynes, an Air Force veteran, said he waited a little over four hours for his first COVID-19 vaccine at First Baptist Church-West on Oaklawn Avenue in Charlotte in late-January. But he said he was happy to wait.
And his wife, 67, got a vaccine at Friendship Missionary Baptist Church on Beatties Ford Road, Rhynes said.
A lot of Rhynes’ family lives in Charlotte, he said.
Several of those family members contracted COVID-19 at one point, he said. But they feel lucky they haven’t lost anyone to the virus. They haven’t started to gather in-person in groups yet — they’ve resorted to mostly phone visits during the pandemic.
Still, being vaccinated is a relief for him and his wife, especially so his wife can visit her father safely, he said.
“You just want to do everything that you can to help the world get beyond this,” he said. “We just try to do our little bit to help progress and move forward.”
Fort Mill, South Carolina, resident L. Diane Bennett said her family is used to seeing each other a lot, too. But during the pandemic, everyone has been “super, super cautious.”
His sister-in-law actually had COVID-19 — a bad case of it, she said.
“It got so bad she was on a ventilator,” she said.
Now, Bennett and many in her family — including her sister-in-law, who recovered from COVID-19 — are fully vaccinated against the coronavirus.
Bennett got her vaccine at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. “It was fabulous,” she said.
Now, Bennett can go back to church at the Historic Sherman Memorial Church of God in Christ on Parkwood Avenue.
But being away from family can take a toll. For the youngest members of the Hoffmann family, family gatherings are a little confusing, Scott Hoffmann said.
“It’s going to take time,” he said. “They’re so young.”
Shirley Hoffmann has been so isolated during the pandemic, he said. So his grandkids, at 2 and 7-months-old, don’t really recognize her.
“When I went over there, I’m a stranger,” Shirley Hoffmann said.
But after a few days, Hoffmann said her youngest great-granddaughter, Margot, warmed up to her.
“She’s ready to smile and wave and I could hold her,” she said.