Jabs in arms. Masks coming off — hesitantly for some, more vigorously for others. Gatherings with family and friends. Dining in restaurants, traveling, even returning to special spaces and places reopening from pandemic restrictions.
The coronavirus still infects and kills, but the decline in
cases, hospitalizations and deaths in the U.S. over the last several months has been precipitous. Risks still remain from dangerous new variants, but as vaccination rates steadily tick up, it is beginning to feel as if there is light at the end of the pandemic tunnel.
Over the last several weeks, photographers from NPR member stations fanned out across the nation to help document what this new phase of the pandemic is looking like. They captured moments of caution and joy, exuberance and relief, as COVID-19 restrictions began to lift.
Here is a glimpse of what they saw:
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT News
Jeff Rollins with the Mister Softee ice cream truck serves students and families from the Cherrywood neighborhood of Austin, Texas, as they celebrate graduating fifth-graders from Maplewood Elementary School on June 2. <a href="https://bit.ly/3zw64X4">See more images on KUT News</a>.
Cleveland STEM High School senior Parris Sanjose laughs with classmates before an in-person commencement ceremony on June 15 at Memorial Stadium in Seattle.
Abi Dwyer (left) and Gail Dwyer, both 25, are sisters with the same father but different mothers who were separated from one another for 15 years. Their first instinct when they reunited recently was to hug one another tightly and cry. No words were spoken for nearly five minutes.
Meredith Nierman / GBH News
Anne Laurie Pierre, senior class president at Everett High School in Everett, Mass., fist-bumps Cory McCarthy, the school's vice principal and one of her mentors, when she first returns to school on March 24 after a year of virtual classes. <a href="https://www.wgbh.org/news/covid-and-the-classroom">See more images on GBH News</a>.
An impromptu dance party gets underway at the Georgetown Waterfront Park in Washington, D.C., as people enjoy beautiful weather and relaxed pandemic restrictions on Memorial Day.
The Bowen McCauley Dance Company performs during a dress rehearsal for its virtual 25th season opening performance, which was also performed to an in-person audience. It was the first such performance at the Kennedy Center in Washington since pandemic lockdowns began.
The Mohawk club reopens with a sold-out performance by the band Heartless Bastards in Austin. The show was part of the reemergence of in-person events at Austin's iconic live music venues. Many of the venues are still waiting for federal funding from the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant program. <a href="https://bit.ly/3xjsuca">See more images on KUTX</a>.
Tyler Russell / Connecticut Public Radio
Seniors from Bullard-Havens Technical High School enjoy a unique prom experience at Quassy Amusement Park in Middlebury, Conn. <a href="https://www.wnpr.org/post/high-schoolers-say-amusement-park-prom-might-be-covid-change-keep">See more images from Connecticut Public Radio</a>.
Dylan Reece, Winona Grindr and other DJs celebrate the return of live music with a dance party at Cheer Up Charlies, a popular LGBTQ-friendly outdoor bar and venue in the Red River Cultural District in Austin on May 15. <a href="https://bit.ly/3vAhSEm">See more images from KUTX</a>.
Joe Amon / Connecticut Public Radio
Tom Policelli enjoys lunch with Deacon Dennis Ferguson at Treva restaurant in West Hartford, Conn. "It is such a delight to have the plastic down and no mask," Ferguson said as Gov. Ned Lamont lifted state coronavirus restrictions on May 19. <a href="https://bit.ly/3zAiHAf">See more images from Connecticut Public Radio</a>.
On May 14, the Smithsonian Institution reopened several of its museums in Washington, including the American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery. Above, visitors walk through the first ladies area of the National Portrait Gallery. <a href="https://wamu.org/story/21/05/18/listen-inside-a-reopened-smithsonian-museum/">See more from WAMU</a>.
Residents at Goodwin House, a senior living facility in the greater Washington area, visit with each other for "Derby Day" on April 30, the day before the Kentucky Derby. It was one of the first big indoor social events for residents since the start of the pandemic.
A swan boat full of riders embarks onto a pond at the Public Garden in Boston. The swan boats did not operate in 2020 because of COVID-19 restrictions. <a href="https://wbur.fm/2U6PoFb">See more images from WBUR</a>.
Gabriel C. Pérez / KUT News
Crowds socialize and play sports at Zilker Metropolitan Park in Austin on May 13.
Crixell Matthews / Virginia Public Media
Mother's Day weekend marked the return of Friday Cheers, an annual summer concert series on Brown's Island in downtown Richmond, Va. For many attendees, it was a reunion and the first live show they'd been able to see in more than a year. <a href="https://bit.ly/3wEU97q">See more images from Virginia Public Media</a>.
Nellie Trnkus, 18, who is graduating from Bethesda Chevy Chase High School in Maryland, and Ahmed Mohmad, who attends Montgomery College, head to the Lincoln Memorial for prom photos. They said they were more comfortable getting together in a small group to celebrate now that vaccines are readily available and rates of infections are going down.