Last year’s shutdown forced Zack Medford, 38, to abruptly close the five bars he owned in North Carolina, lay off 80 employees, and apply for unemployment benefits. He has had to give up two of his bars after falling behind on rent payments while they sat empty.
But on Wednesday, the state announced that bars could open Friday at 30 percent of their indoor capacity. With two days’ notice to reopen, he called old employees, who were eager to return to work, and restocked the inventory. Then on Friday, he opened his doors and welcomed back regular customers he had not seen in a year to have a drink at the bar.
“It was an exhilarating feeling to see that happen,” said Mr. Medford, who is also the president of the state’s bar and tavern association. “It really was the first time in a year that I got out of bed and was excited, had something to look forward to.”
After some counties in Washington State allowed movie theaters to reopen, Nick Butcher, 36, made up for lost time by attending screenings of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy for three straight nights. He bought M&M’s at the concession stand, sat distanced from others in the audience, and said he felt as though things were almost back to normal.
“I’m actually getting optimistic, over all,” said Mr. Butcher, a software engineer at Microsoft who recently recovered from a case of Covid-19, as did several relatives. “This week is one of the first times I’ve gone into my office almost since the pandemic started.”
A return to crowded office spaces and schools left other Americans both elated and unsettled.
Amanda Sewell, a teacher at Tates Creek High School in Lexington, Ky., will welcome students to her classroom next Monday for the first time in a year. Decorations from last year’s Mardi Gras celebration still hang in the class. The date on her whiteboard still reads March 13, 2020 — the day school closed and she went home, feeling certain it would just take a couple of weeks before she and her students were back in the classroom.