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The Joy Of Receiving A COVID-19 Vaccine In A Nursing Home


America's vaccination campaign is still a long way from returning life to normal, but it is starting to make a difference. It's happening in assisted living facilities, some of the first places where vaccines arrived. Rae Ellen Bichell reports on a facility in Colorado that's starting to see some relief.

RAE ELLEN BICHELL, BYLINE: For the first time in nearly a year, the residents of The Haven Assisted Living Facility in the small town of Hayden have assembled in the dining hall...


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Let the games begin.

BICHELL: ...For a game of giant crossword puzzle.



BICHELL: Everyone is wearing those ubiquitous blue masks, and they're seated about six feet away from each other. But they're in a room playing a game together. To Norma Price, that's something.

NORMA PRICE: I haven't been with this many people for, like, a year (laughter).

BICHELL: Most residents got their second shots in late January. They need to wait for federal guidance and state rules to change before they can hug their relatives or throw away their masks. But for now, they can gather and laugh...

SALLY HASKINS: I know about snakes.

BICHELL: ...Like when Sally Haskins swiftly guesses the words boa and adder, and it becomes clear the 94-year-old rancher and whiskey lover has some snake-killing under her belt.

HASKINS: (Laughter) Yes, I have killed several snakes.

BICHELL: 'Cause you're a hardy ranch woman.

HASKINS: Yeah, we were out south of Maybell.

BICHELL: Staff there are still very much on guard. Cases are not looking good in the county. And Adrienne Idsal, the director, said some residents are still afraid to leave their rooms.

ADRIENNE IDSAL: Even though we've gotten our vaccines and things are starting to feel a little lighter, it's not time to let our guard down whatsoever. And COVID is still, like, a constant threat.

BICHELL: But things are looking up.

IDSAL: I mean, I feel like every single time that we're all getting together, it feels like history's being made.

BICHELL: They're gearing up for Super Bowl and Valentine's Day parties and their first field trip outside the building since the pandemic started to a private movie screening at a theater.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Y'all can come on in.

BICHELL: The other big change is that visitors can come indoors...


BICHELL: ...Masked and behind plexiglass, a little like fish in an aquarium, but no longer muffled by an Internet connection or phone line. Resident Deb Davis is visiting with her daughter and grandson.

DEB DAVIS: It has been, like, a year, I think, since we've hugged. It's been a while.

BICHELL: But being vaccinated feels good.

DAVIS: You really can do more.

BICHELL: Her daughter says before the vaccine, her mom would always pick up the phone. Now it's hard to catch her.


BICHELL: Back at the crossword game, The Haven is a world away from the time when the coronavirus took two of its 15 residents.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: Self-portrait, yes.


BICHELL: Meteor, tigers, arias, Oslo - the one word that didn't come up was COVID.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: We won. Did everybody get candy?


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: I think everybody should have candy.

BICHELL: I'm Rae Ellen Bichell in Colorado.

CHANG: And that story is from our partner Kaiser Health News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rae Ellen Bichell is a reporter for NPR's Science Desk. She first came to NPR in 2013 as a Kroc fellow and has since reported Web and radio stories on biomedical research, global health, and basic science. She won a 2016 Michael E. DeBakey Journalism Award from the Foundation for Biomedical Research. After graduating from Yale University, she spent two years in Helsinki, Finland, as a freelance reporter and Fulbright grantee.