They are at higher risk at becoming seriously ill from the virus, but they also don’t want to ‘stop doing the things that are most important.’
HOUSTON — Mary Kesterson, 67, was strolling maskless through Houston’s teeming Galleria mall this week, among a sea of shoppers hunting for last-minute gifts.
She was aware of the mounting anxiety across the country over the highly transmissible Omicron variant of the coronavirus and, as an older American, she was a member of a group at heightened risk from the virus. But she saw no reason to do anything but forge ahead with her Christmas plans.
“I’m not worried about it,” Ms. Kesterson said. “I’m just going along with my life. We’re all vaccinated, everyone in the family.”
For the second year in a row, Americans have hurtled into the holiday season under a cloud of escalating coronavirus cases, forced again to decide whether to carry on or cancel celebrations that had, only weeks ago, appeared so promising and so certain.
Such calculations are particularly fraught for older Americans. They are a highly vaccinated group in the United States — 88 percent of them are fully vaccinated, well above the national average of 62 percent. But they have also been the most vulnerable to the pandemic since the beginning and more likely to get seriously ill and die from the virus: Seventy-five percent of people who have died of Covid in the United States, or about 600,000 of the more than 800,000 who have perished, have been 65 or older.
In rural towns in Maine and Oregon and in urban centers in Texas and New York, holiday plans have been upended for many older Americans. Travel itineraries canceled. Gatherings postponed.
“I feel that time is more precious because of my age and because of my health,” said Susan West, 68, who lives in Lake Ariel, in northeastern Pennsylvania, and has multiple sclerosis. “I don’t have more time in front of me — I have more time behind me. So that is getting irritating, knowing that I’m losing time for social gatherings.”
Ms. West and her husband are skipping their usual Christmas Eve gathering of extended family in New York City this year, opting for a smaller celebration at home.