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Austin marketing adviser and cyclist Kimberly Jarboe never leaves the house without a bottle of hand sanitizer clipped to her belt loop.

Still, weeks of sheltering in place have worn her down.


And so, like many others aching for some sliver of their pre-pandemic lives, Jarboe has found little ways to let the world back in—while still wearing a mask, sanitizing her hands, playing it safe.

"I do have a very close circle of friends that I've been spending time with and acting fairly normal around," said Jarboe, who used to ride bikes with groups of hundreds of cyclists.

As the pandemic drags on and state leaders relax shutdown orders, even some of the most ardent social distancers in Austin are finding themselves adjusting their own boundaries.

Social media abounds with locals getting together but staying distant: Hair appointments, kayaks on Lady Bird Lake, multi-family picnics under separate trees, sparse backyard gatherings, and cautious date nights at restaurants with masked servers.

"We always ate out a lot and have missed going into restaurants for the full dining experience," said Jeannette Larson, who has restaurant reservations Wednesday for the first time since the shutdown. "I've been impressed by their safety measures, so we are going for it."

"Semi-socially distant" is how local attorney Lenore Shefman describes her occasional visits "with folks I trust."

"We still practice safety like washing hands, and nobody is coughing or sneezing, and we stay outside," Shefman said.

Austin politicians and health officials worry that some locals will take it too far.

"There's more disease in the community now than there has ever been," said Dr. Mark Escott, Austin-Travis County interim health authority. "That should be a warning sign to folks that the time for caution is not over."

The safety message still resonates with those who are finding what they say are reasonably safe loopholes.

Tara Hall, a content strategist who has been isolating alone, agreed to a getaway this weekend with a longtime travel companion taking the same precautions.

The two chose a secluded, vacant AirBnB to make contact tracing easier if either of them winds up exposed.

"I'm nervous but willing to take this mental break with one person I trust," she said. "It feels like I've had a two-and-a-half-month-week, in a way, and this will be my weekend. I can't wait to feel clear-headed after this trip, even if it's short-lived."

Jarboe and the others say they are simply coping with the reality that their old lives may not return for a long time.

"Previous to this, my world was pretty much all friends and bike rides," she said. "Having small 'safe' gatherings and bike rides with a handful of my closest friends helps me stay sane and gives me a small taste of what normal life used to be."

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