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Toronto musician Joe Dent contracted the Delta variant in July of 2021, and the Omicron variant in December. His symptoms were mild and he’s received two doses of COVID-19 vaccination.Fred Lum/The Globe and Mail

Christmas came three weeks late for Rachel Vigliatore’s family. Held on Jan 16, the improvised “xmas redo” was significant: Ms. Vigliatore and her husband had recently emerged from isolation after contracting COVID-19 in December. Joining them were several relatives also newly out of isolation after infection, along with Ms. Vigliatore’s boosted parents and vaccinated daughters, plus nieces and nephews.

After rapid testing everyone, the convalesced family sat down to a four-course dinner, followed by panettone for dessert and opening of presents.

“This year we threw caution out the window and figured nothing else could happen,” said Ms. Vigliatore, a 41-year-old high school teacher in Pickering, Ont., whose family skipped Christmas in 2020 because of the pandemic. “It felt great being together again and seeing the pure joy in my kids’ faces and my parents.”

This winter, growing numbers of vaccinated Canadians coming out the other side after a bout with Omicron are weighing complicated questions on how to live now. After dreading COVID-19 infection for so long, some who recover after lighter symptoms find a quiet, unexpected feeling of relief: the menace feels over, for a time. For others, the immuno-cocktail of vaccination, boosters and recent infection creates an illusion of invincibility. Some of those lucky enough to improve after milder symptoms describe mental respite. After nearly two years of crisis and calculating their risks non-stop, they calm down for a moment.

Experiencing such relief after recuperating from COVID-19 remains thorny: The disease deals so much damage to a body, and so many are severely ill. Crucially, many unknowns remain around postinfection immunity. Immunologists and infectious disease specialists believe that vaccination together with a COVID-19 infection can offer heightened levels of immunity in the face of existing variants. But it’s unclear how potent postinfection immunity actually is, how long it lasts or how widely it varies from person to person.

Those who’ve come out unscathed after contracting Omicron remain apprehensive about the future, uncertain about their risks for transmission, reinfection and incurable Long Covid. Unclear on what comes next, they’re living in increments.

COVID-19 wasn’t far from the minds of Ms. Vigliatore and her family at their Christmas redo. They exchanged stories about symptoms and shared gratitude for their vaccinations and good health after recovery. “Would I say I felt totally relieved? No. But I did feel like we were a little safer,” said Ms. Vigliatore.

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The postOmicron Christmas was an allowance her family members had afforded themselves, she said, this after foregoing much family time over two years as they followed public health guidelines. She and her husband, also a teacher, have drastically limited their contacts again after returning to work at their schools.

“Our family event, it was easy for us to file [COVID-19] away because nothing bad happened to us,” Ms. Vigliatore said. “No one ended up in the hospital or on oxygen. No one has any lingering effects. This conversation would have been very different in a family that had a different experience.”

For those who have resumed their lives after a COVID-19 infection, “The feeling is complicated and mixed,” said Jonathan Stea, a clinical psychologist and adjunct assistant professor in psychology at the University of Calgary.

“Some people might feel a sense of liberation, anger, confusion, surprise, excitement, continued anxiety, and a combination of … such emotions,” Dr. Stea said. “There’s no right way to feel.”

Double vaccinated, Joe Dent got COVID-19 twice, the first time last June and then again a week before Christmas, likely with Omicron. After bouncing back from mild symptoms each time, the 26-year-old felt relief.

“Both times I felt great after because it was sort of over with and I feel like I don’t have to worry about it for the time being,” said Mr. Dent, a Toronto musician and part-time restaurant server whose gigs are on hold amid restrictions in the city.

Though Mr. Dent continues following public health guidelines, some of his fears have let up. “It’s just a load off your mind. Even just on the streetcar and there’s someone coughing three seats down, I feel like I’d be more stressed about that if I didn’t already have it.”

He noticed his postOmicron status had put friends at ease: “Even other people who haven’t had it I find are more receptive to hanging out because they’re not worried that I will spread it,” he said.

Mr. Dent plans to travel to Costa Rica with his father and brother in a few weeks, a trip he’d be more anxious about if he hadn’t already contracted the virus. Even so, he plans on getting his booster shot before the trip as an added layer of protection. “Never say never. I could still get sick again.”

While Dr. Stea acknowledged that people are burned out by the crisis and longing for normalcy, he urged those who’ve recuperated from COVID-19 to find ways to appreciate their temporary relief of anxiety, without taking unnecessary risks.

“Both vaccination and recovery from Covid-19 are not licences to be reckless,” said Dr. Stea, a member of ScienceUpFirst, a national initiative that works with independent scientists, health care experts and other thinkers to counter misinformation about the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Stea posited that recovery is prime time for gratitude, perspective-taking and closer reflection on the pandemic’s toll. He urged balance, not complacency, for those who’ve come through it: “We need to be mindful that we aren’t out of the woods.”

While some who recuperate remain hyper-cautious, others view their recovery as a sliver of opportunity to enjoy small freedoms. These are modest acts: going to the grocery store after shopping online for months, hugging another friend on the mend and out of isolation, letting kids play with their recently recovered classmates.

Some who’ve made it to the other side feel more assured going to work, feeling their risk of infection is momentarily minimized.

Missing her bakery shifts is not an option for Kulwant Chauhan, who became the sole breadwinner for her family in Brampton, Ont., after losing her husband to a heart attack three years ago. And so the 42-year-old has been exceedingly careful throughout the pandemic, avoiding gatherings and sanitizing thoroughly before returning home to her children, aged 10 and 15, and mother, 63.

In November, 2020, at a time when vaccines were not yet being administered in Canada, Ms. Chauhan contracted COVID-19. She recovered after experiencing milder symptoms and felt relieved at the notion that she might have gained limited immunity after her infection. She felt even more bolstered after receiving both vaccines.

As the Omicron variant began ripping through the country this winter, she grew tense again: Her job involves interacting with customers every day. On Dec. 23, while her family was away, Ms. Chauhan again tested positive for COVID-19. She isolated for five days until her light symptoms subsided.

Now fully recovered and back at work, Ms. Chauhan feels a careful sense of consolation.

“I don’t want to gloat because I know many people who lost loved ones. But I’m grateful that my body could handle being infected twice,” she said. “I am so relieved. I don’t have the luxury of working from home. Being slightly sick for a few days was a small price to pay for being able to go to work without feeling paranoid.”

Others who’ve recovered from COVID-19 say they are reminded of what life was like before the pandemic.

After contracting the virus in December, 30-year-old Toronto software entrepreneur Jeffrey Doucet had a migraine that lasted three days. Still, Mr. Doucet, who is single and lives alone, felt the isolation period was worse than his physical symptoms; double vaccinated, he quickly recovered.

Mr. Doucet was disappointed to emerge from his isolation to a city closed down amid a tidal wave of Omicron cases. “There are all these people who have recovered and they can’t do anything,” Mr. Doucet lamented about the shuttered restaurants and bars. “But I understand how the rules work.”

Having convalesced, Mr. Doucet decided to take a business trip to Orlando – a move he wouldn’t have considered prior to getting the virus, pointing to Florida’s astronomically high case counts.

“I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t really enjoying it,” Mr. Doucet said of his travels. “Granted, that’s not an endorsement of how Florida has managed this over the last two years. But right now, this time, having recovered, this is relaxing. This is what life is supposed to feel like.”

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