Grant Weddle, 23, isn't totally sure how he contracted COVID-19.
A friend of his went out to the bars one night in early December, and after spending time with her, they had both developed symptoms.
Now that Weddle has recovered from COVID, he feels differently. "I don't feel as at risk as before," he said.
Others feel similarly.
Lynn, a 23-year-old server who works in North Austin and asked to be identified by her middle name, tested positive for COVID in late December after experiencing mild, allergy-like symptoms. Since then, she has noticed an attitude shift. "It sounds bad to say but I feel kind of invincible," she said. "In my head, I should be free from COVID at least through March."
The 20- to 29-age group is less at risk for hospitalization and death due to COVID, accounting for 26% of the confirmed cases in Travis County but only 8% of hospitalizations and 1% of deaths. But local public health officials have stressed that they can easily spread the virus to others and should observe precautions to avoid doing so.
This concern became especially acute in the wake of the Christmas and New Year's holidays when nearly half of the new cases confirmed in Travis County were in the 20-29 and 30-39 age groups, which officials attributed to social gatherings and travel. They also criticized state-level loopholes that allow some bars "masquerading as restaurants" to remain open.
There is still confusion about how long a person who has recovered from COVID may be immune to it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Weddle knows this. "I'm not naive in thinking that I'm home free, and I'll never get (COVID) again," he said, adding that he continues to take precautions—such as masking while in public—to avoid acting as a carrier.
Still, having COVID has changed his outlook.
Weddle, who works as an essential worker and asked that his exact job title not be used, said he has taken the pandemic seriously since it began in March. Because his job puts him in contact with strangers every day, he traded out nights on Sixth Street for board game nights at home.
But it's not that easy for someone in their early twenties to avoid socializing—especially those who have recovered from COVID and now feel the chances of getting it a second time are almost nonexistent.
Weddle went out to the bars for New Year's Eve, which he acknowledged was risky. "I guess being locked inside for as long as I was (with COVID), I was cooped up and I needed a release," he said.
Weddle feels comfortable talking to his friends and posting on social media about his experience with COVID because he contracted the disease despite doing his best to adhere to local public health recommendations. "I got it because someone else went out and gave it to me," he said. "It's not my fault."
Lynn, who is also an essential worker, feels similarly. She said her social media feeds are full of people who appear to be taking fewer precautions than she is. "Not necessarily in shoulder-to-shoulder bars but going out to eat, getting brunch with a friend, on Sixth Street," she said. "Because my friend group is just as lax as I am, I'm not necessarily worried about how I'll be received."
Despite feeling invincible and taking some risks, Lynn feels like she is taking adequate precautions to prevent spreading the virus to other people should she be exposed to it again. When visiting her mom, who lives outside of Fort Worth and works in the medical field, she avoids going out the week or two prior. She is also comforted by the fact that her mom has received the first dose of the vaccine and is regularly screened for COVID at work. "She has way more access to testing than anyone else that I know, so I feel more chill," she said.
Still, Lynn is eager for more people to get vaccinated, including her. She said wants the vaccine so she can feel more secure working and going out. "As soon as the vaccine is readily available, I will be first in line," she said.
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