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Los Verdes finally gather together in-person outside Banc of California Stadium for Austin FC's inaugural game. (Sonia Garcia/Austonia)

"You don't know what you have until it's gone," Jay, a 25-year-old researcher at the University of Texas told Austonia. He held a boat party on Lake Travis to celebrate himself and his friends getting vaccinated, something that has been taboo in the pandemic sphere.

After a year of staying indoors, social distancing and attending school online, Jay, who asked to remain anonymous to avoid potential backlash, said he feels relieved and has been enjoying activities he wasn't able to do as freely prior to vaccination: going to bars, having friends over and being around more than 10 people at a time.

"It made going to Zilker Park, a place that I've been to a number of times before, even more special," Jay said. "It also felt like this is one step closer to normalcy so it's definitely a comforting feeling."

As the curve flattens and vaccines become more widely available—with 61.22% of eligible Travis County residents at least partially vaccinated—"normal" is starting to return. And many vaccinated Austinites are rejoicing over their newfound freedom.

Thirty-four-year-old Fabian Puente, an artist and musician, kept a tight-knit group of friends throughout the pandemic, so he could maintain a social life without worrying about catching the virus, but has since enjoyed eating out, going to the greenbelt and seeing movies in theaters since getting vaccinated.

"I feel like Superman," Puente, said. "The risk is much lower and that eases my mind a lot."

The pandemic has permanently changed him though—Puente said he's more conscious about washing his hands clean and still wears his mask to keep others safe. He doesn't feel quite normal yet, but he said that will change when he is able to go to concerts and perform again.

Groups that didn't feel safe meeting before most were vaccinated are now not only meeting in-person but also traveling together. Los Verdes, an Austin FC supporter group, was only able to hold a few in-person events before the pandemic. They've since started meeting again, the group has traveled to Minnesota, Colorado and California to watch games, attend outdoor watch parties and hold frequent events at Hopsquad Brewing.

"It has been a big release this spring to get back out and a lot of times meet people, lots of people that I've only known through Slack over the last year or on Twitter," member Jeremiah Bentley said. "It's been really joyful because a lot of us haven't had the chance to really actually spend much of any time together."

Bentley said that even though a lot of people in their group are enjoying being able to meet in person, they are still continuing Zoom events for those who aren't ready to face the world again and will continue to do so until everyone is comfortable meeting in person.

"The most important thing we can do is police our own," Bentley said. "The first Austin FC match at home is on June 19 and we'd all love to be in a full stadium together, standing shoulder-to-shoulder, and the only way that's going to happen is if a significant number of people get vaccinated between now and then."


(Austonia file photo)

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