According to the Department of State Health Services, 25% of seniors in Texas have been fully vaccinated.

At Betsy’s in Bellaire, they are seeing much more gray hair in the crowd.

“Recently, we have seen an uptick in our guests who are 65 and older than what we were seeing during the (beginning of the) pandemic,” said Kirk Williamson, chief operating officer of Betsy’s. “What a wonderful site that is.”

After a year of being apart, four longtime friends were finally able to meet in Houston for lunch.

“We’ve pretty much stayed inside,” said Donald Hayes, who is in his 70s. We have not gone too far and have not associated with friends.”

But on Thursday, Hayes and his wife, Becky, met Betty and Phil Leonard for an in-person lunch. Both couples are fully vaccinated.

“This is somewhat of a celebration of being able to get out and do things, social things, after a year of being stuck home,” said Becky Hayes. “Having been vaccinated, I feel like I have a shield around me. Certainly not impenetrable, but I feel so much safer being out.”

The past year has been filled with not just lost lunches with friends, but also missed milestones with grandchildren, both couples expressed.

“Not being with family. That’s been the hardest thing,” said Betty Leonard. “It feels like we are a little bit freer to do things.”

According to the CDC, 2 million people in Texas have received both vaccines.

Vice President of Operations for Ethos Wellness Cyrus Martin said he hopes we can begin to overcome what he calls an “unprecedented challenge”.

“Human connection is probably the most important thing as a contributor to mental health in regard to helping manage depression and anxiety,” said Martin. “Social connections are something that is really important to us as humans. We are really hard-wired to interact with each other in social ways, so it’s been a big challenge for us.”

Although the Hayeses have had each other to lean on during the pandemic, others haven’t been so lucky.

“For my single friends, for my widowed friends, I think it’s been very difficult because they’re alone,” said Becky Hayes.

The two reunited couples hope this is the beginning of a new chapter filled with more lunches, dinners, and in-person fun.

They all said that despite Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s executive order to lift the mask mandate next week, they will continue to wear masks.