People sit at a bar in Houston on May 4, after social-distancing guidelines were relaxed. (Callaghan O'Hare/Reuters)

This is what America’s reopening looks like so far


Published 10:00 PM ET, Wed May 19, 2021

People sit at a bar in Houston on May 4, after social-distancing guidelines were relaxed. (Callaghan O'Hare/Reuters)

As more and more Americans become fully vaccinated against Covid-19, life is starting to look something like it did before the pandemic.

Cities and states are relaxing their restrictions, allowing businesses to expand their capacity. People are returning to schools and their places of worship. Entertainment venues are reopening. Sports fans are starting to fill up stadiums again.

"If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic," said Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "We have all longed for this moment when we can get back to some sense of normalcy."

Walensky was announcing the CDC’s new guidance that people who are fully vaccinated do not need to wear masks or practice social distancing anymore. There are a few exceptions, and there’s still a long way to go to reach herd immunity, but it’s one of the clearest signs yet that things are improving in the country.

Bars and restaurants

The pandemic devastated the hospitality industry.

Restaurants and bars had to cut their capacity or close altogether, switching their focus to takeout food and even takeout alcohol. For many, that wouldn’t be enough to save their business.

But demand is picking up now, and dining rooms are starting to reopen and expand. People are mingling at bars again.

There are still many safety measures in place, such as plastic dividers. Waiters and bartenders often continue to wear masks.

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People eat outside a restaurant in Los Angeles on May 5. Before the pandemic, restaurants and bars employed 12% of all workers in the United States, President Joe Biden said. "Restaurants are more than a major driver of our economy. They're woven into the fabric of our communities," Biden said as he promoted the new Restaurant Revitalization Fund, which was established to help struggling restaurants and other eligible businesses keep their doors open. (Philip Cheung/The New York Times/Redux)
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Lakisha Howard hugs her husband, Wendell, on a Mother’s Day cruise in Washington, DC, on May 9. "My husband proposed to me 15 years ago on this boat. He re-proposed to me today and all the kids kept it a secret," she said. (Rosem Morton/The New York Times/Redux)
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Tables are isolated from one another outside the Townhouse restaurant in Birmingham, Michigan, on March 25. (Carlos Osorio/AP)
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Bartender Shane Buggy cleans dividers on May 3 at McSorley's Old Ale House, a 167-year-old bar in New York City. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)
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Couples embrace outside a bar in Austin, Texas, on March 13. (Matthew Busch/The New York Times/Redux)

Entertainment

For many of us during the pandemic, entertainment was whatever we could find in the safety of our homes. That was usually streaming TV and movies, which became a flood in 2020.

Crowded concert venues were replaced by live-streamed performances and drive-thru shows, where people would pull up in their cars to watch.

But with more people getting vaccinated, we’re starting to return to some of our favorite spots: movie theaters, theme parks, museums. And concert halls are starting to host performances again.

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People clap while watching Norm Lewis perform at the Restart Stages concert in New York City on May 10. (Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images)
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Dancers prepare to perform for a limited crowd at the Tennessee Theatre in Knoxville, Tennessee, on May 8. (Shawn Poynter/The New York Times/Redux)
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Children play with bubbles in New York’s Bryant Park on May 4. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
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A band plays at Favela Chic on March 12, the first night that live music was allowed in New Orleans since the start of the pandemic. (Annie Flanagan/The New York Times/Redux)
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People ride a wave swinger at Chicago’s Navy Pier on May 14. (Shafkat Anowar/AP)
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Tiesto performs a set at The Oasis in Miami on May 7. (Scott Roth/Invision/AP)
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Visitors wear masks at the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery as it reopened to the public in Washington, DC, on May 14. (Pete Kiehart/Bloomberg/Getty Images)
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A family takes a selfie while visiting Disneyland in Anaheim, California, on April 30. The theme park was reopening after being closed for more than a year. (Jae Hong/AP)
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People wait for a movie to start at a theater in Burbank, California, on March 15. (Philip Cheung/The New York Times/Redux)

Sports and recreation

More than 50,000 people attended the Kentucky Derby, one of America’s most iconic sporting events, on May 1. It’s thought to be the most attended sporting event in the United States since the start of the pandemic.

A couple of weeks after the Derby, more than 40,000 fans attended an Atlanta United soccer game.

Athletes have been playing in front of mostly empty seats for much of the pandemic. But teams have been expanding their capacities in line with their state and local guidelines.

As many as 135,000 fans are expected to attend the Indianapolis 500 at the end of May.

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Horses race around the first turn of Churchill Downs during the Kentucky Derby on May 1. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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Young baseball players grab their gear in a dugout in Ronan, Montana, on April 27. (Tailyr Irvine/The New York Times/Redux)
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Atlanta United fans attend a home match at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on May 15. The team said it was the biggest soccer crowd in the world since the start of the pandemic. (Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire/AP)
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People gather for a soap box derby in Columbus, Ohio, on April 24. (Maddie McGarvey/The New York Times/Redux)
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A sold-out crowd watches a rodeo in San Angelo, Texas, on April 16. It was the first rodeo to take place in the city with no restrictions since the beginning of the pandemic. (Sergio Flores/AFP/Getty Images)
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A skateboarder does a trick at the Venice Skate Park in Los Angeles on April 23. (Alexi Rosenfeld/Getty Images)
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Golf fans watch Hideki Matsuyama hit a tee shot at the Masters tournament in Augusta, Georgia, on April 11. (Doug Mills/The New York Times/Redux)

Places of worship

During the pandemic, many religious services have been streamed online so that people can worship while still maintaining their distance from others.

Some services were moved outside. Some banned singing to prevent the spread of Covid-19. Others continued to hold indoor services, but with masks, social distancing and other precautions in place.

The CDC’s new guidance would allow more people to worship the way they did before the pandemic. It will vary by congregation, and some are moving more deliberately than others.

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Worshippers raise their hands as the Rev. Darryl Person gives a sermon at the Ebenezer Missionary Baptist Church in Chicago on May 2. The service was limited to 40 people, and congregants had to have their temperatures taken before entering the sanctuary. (Taylor Glascock/The New York Times/Redux)
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People in Brooklyn, New York, take part in morning prayers during Eid al-Fitr, celebrating the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan on May 13. (Stephanie Keith/Reuters)
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People worship in alternating rows of pews at La Crescenta Presbyterian Church in Las Crescenta, California, on May 16. It was the church’s first indoor service in more than a year. (David McNew/AFP/Getty Images)
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Morning prayers are held inside Chabad at Short Hills, a Jewish community in Livingston, New Jersey, on May 9. (James Estrin/The New York Times/Redux)

Schools

The coronavirus shut down schools across the country last year, forcing students to try to navigate distance learning and virtual classrooms. Some students missed major milestones such as prom and graduation, and they were unable to participate in extracurricular activities such as dance, music and sports.

But schools have been gradually reopening in recent months, depending on their local restrictions.

President Biden has said that K-12 schools "should probably all be open" in the fall for in-person learning. He has made reopening schools a priority since taking office, and his economic relief law included nearly $130 billion to help that cause.

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Elementary school students wear masks in Eagle, Alaska, on March 31. (Nathan Howard/Reuters)
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Students graduating from Northeastern University attend commencement ceremonies in Boston on May 8. They were spaced apart as they stood on the field at Fenway Park. (Erin Clark/The Boston Globe/Getty Images)
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Students are led onto a school bus after the school day ended in Allentown, Pennsylvania, on April 13. (Hannah Beier/Reuters)
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Kindergarten students are separated by plexiglass during a math class in Rye, New York, on May 18. (Mary Altaffer/AP)
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Young people dance during a prom in El Paso, Texas, on May 7. About 2,000 attended the outdoor event, which took place at a private venue after local school districts announced they would not host proms this year. (Paul Ratje/AP)
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Students from Bethesda, Maryland, pose for prom photos in front of the Washington Monument on May 14. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

Credits

  • Photo editors: Brett Roegiers, Fruhlein Chrys Econar and Will Lanzoni
  • Writer: Kyle Almond