Can you feel the difference? Can you see it? As quickly as the COVID-19 virus locked down the nation, vaccines have people living again.

"It does feel like we've turned a corner," Rochester Mayor Kim Norton said. "I've seen people shaking hands, people hugging.'"

There hasn't been much of that in the 18 months COVID-19 virus ravaged the nation.

"It's been a drastic change in a short amount of time," Norton said. "Anyone who wants a vaccine can get it. And there's been a collective sigh of relief because Rochester has such a high vaccination rate. "

Vaccines are now available for those age 12 and older, so there's still concern for younger children. And the situation could still change.

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"In the fall, we may need to re-evaluate, determine if the vaccines are lasting and whether we might need a booster," Norton said.

Joe Ward, president of Experience Rochester and the Mayo Civic Center, said he can feel the change downtown. The Civic Center has been largely dark during the pandemic.

"Rochester is incredibly resilient," he said. "Mayo Clinic is back to full strength and business is returning to the Mayo Civic Center. Hotel occupancy is increasing, which is incredibly important as there is still a road ahead to complete recovery for our hospitality partner hotels, restaurants and retailers who were so adversely impacted by the pandemic."

Ward said a labor shortage has also tempered recovery for local businesses.

While there is optimism and falling COVID-19 rates, we can’t let our guard down. Safety is a priority," he said.

One sign that business is bouncing back has been activity at the civic center.

"We are confident in a rebound with conferences and events," Ward said. "Just this week we are hosting the United States Trampoline and Tumbling Association’s National Championships at the Mayo Civic Center, with approximately 1,000 attendees a day from Monday to Saturday. The phones are ringing again in our sales department, which is a great sign. We have booked several live shows for late summer and beyond."

Mayor Norton said that the returns of Rochesterfest and the Fourth of July celebration are signs that life in Rochester is returning to something resembling normal.

"It's definitely time to celebrate," she said.

The description "new normal" has grown stale from overuse, but it aptly describes our situation. We've learned a lot in the past 18 months, and our lives might never return to the routines we once had before the pandemic. But we've turned the corner, and the road ahead, while not entirely clear, gives us reason to feel hopeful.