As soul music drifted across the lawn at the Mann Music Center Saturday afternoon, Deanna Nicosia-Jones said she was glad she’d hung onto her tickets for HoagieNation, the Hall and Oates-led music festival that was canceled at the height of the coronavirus pandemic last year — and returned to Philly this weekend.
“We knew, someday, life would be going back to somewhat normal,” she said, laughing.
Emphasis on somewhat. Nicosia-Jones is a fifth-grade teacher in Cumberland County, and had spent her morning at a New Jersey Education Association meeting headlined by Gov. Phil Murphy, who, on Friday, had announced a mask mandate for New Jersey schools this fall. She’s as excited as anyone to take advantage of the summer re-openings — but with the emergence of the delta variant, rising case counts, and vaccines still unavailable for her students, the coronavirus is always at the back of her mind.
“We’re happy with [Murphy’s] mask mandate for students,” she said. “My kids are right at that age where they can’t get vaccinated. I feel like every day, like we’re getting there, but I know that when we get back to the classroom, we’re going to have to be prepared to pivot.”
Like many people out and about in Philadelphia on Saturday, Nicosia-Jones is balancing the pleasures of a vaccinated summer with worries about the pandemic — and taking precautions to stay safe, whether that means sticking to outdoor events, masking up indoors again, or reconsidering travel plans.
Tailgating before the Phillies game Saturday afternoon, Sharon Lynn and Krys Johnson, of Fairmount, had set up in their lawn chairs with a drink and a stuffed Phillie Phanatic, taking care to stick to their parking spot. “We’ve kind of isolated ourselves here, and in the stadium, we feel pretty safe,” Lynn said. “But we’re getting back to wearing masks to the grocery store.”
“Outside,” Johnson added, “makes us feel better.”
Justin Russell, of Germantown, Md., attending his first Phillies game with his family, brought masks to wear inside the stadium. He was excited to see family he’d been separated from during the pandemic, and though everyone was vaccinated, he said the prospect of a summer free of worry from the coronavirus is slipping away. It was a sentiment echoed by others throughout the day.
“I was surprised — I thought the worst was over,” said Raymond Ranelli, a longshoreman from Southwest Philly who attended HoagieNation Saturday. “But absolutely, being vaccinated makes me feel better.”
Still, those who spoke with The Inquirer on Saturday, most of whom said they were vaccinated, said they were trying to savor the summer day. In the “hoagie happy hour tent” at HoagieNation, where delis from around the area handed out free hoagies, Valerie Stover said she was simply happy to “be out here enjoying life.”
It had been a difficult year: She was diagnosed with cancer during the pandemic, and navigated treatment, including a transplant surgery, while running a recovery house for women in addiction in Glassboro.
“It’s been a really tough year on a lot of our girls,” she said. “It’s fun and enjoyable for them to get out.”
Damien and Shelice Douglas, of West Philadelphia, lounging in lawn chairs a few feet away, said Saturday was their first concert since the pandemic, and their first concert outdoors — ever. They’d picked seats on the lawn mostly so they could more effectively socially distance, but between the breeze and the sun and the safely-distanced concertgoers, they decided they liked the lawn even better than the seats in the arena below.
“I’m in awe of how good it feels,” Damien said, laughing.