Peter Gamlen

Will this fall see a return of the campus rager — or are we laying low again?

As our much-anticipated Hot Vaxx Summer draws to a close, it’s looking like new variants might ravage our dreams of a Thotty Vax Fall. Personally, I’m glad that I took full advantage of the past few months. After more than a year of avoiding humans like they were radioactive waste, I found myself bumpin’-and-thumpin’ alongside (vaccinated) strangers in three-story nightclubs, hanging out maskless at dive bars and mingling in cramped, poorly ventilated apartments. But now, as Delta and Lambda rudely make their rounds, I find myself unsure of what this fall will bring.

Many other young people are just as uncertain as I am about whether they’ll be able to socialize as cold and flu (and uh, COVID) season commences. Because our public health situation keeps spiraling, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and unsure of what is ethical when it comes to having fun. So, where does the party go from here?

For some, this summer was like taking a slow-releasing molly whose high we're not ready to let go of. The idea of returning to some form of lockdown is daunting for this demographic, especially if they find a core part of their community in nightlife venues. “Not being able to connect with the queer and Black community, just the idea of that going away, is really scary,” says Nasir Fleming, 24, a social media manager at a tech company who identifies as both Black and queer. Fleming says that he will keep going out, as long as venues remain open and require proof of vaccination.

Because he works from home and doesn’t interact with lots of people on a day-to-day basis, Fleming says he doesn’t feel as nervous about contracting the virus. Like others, he is trusting statistics that show that less than 99% of COVID-related hospitalizations and deaths are of those who are vaccinated.

But there are many others who are more than ready for things to wind down. “I think that last winter, everything being under lockdown was hard for most people but I enjoyed being home,” says Abigail Castillo, 23, a college senior who lives in Brooklyn. “I kind of want to just focus on school and enjoy the company of my dog and save up money for when things get better.”

Castillo thinks that Hot Vaxx Summer, as a concept, was overhyped. She was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of people who returned to New York, generating giant lines for bars. In June, she reminded me, nearly every indoor space was cramped to the point of becoming uncomfortable. Plus, the puppy she adopted last December — a Chihuahua mix named Leticia Pupusa — has kept her company and prevented her from getting lonely. Even though she lives far away from her family, Castillo says that having a living, breathing thing to care for has made it enjoyable to stay in.

After speaking to different people about whether they would go out or stay home this fall, I began to notice a pattern. People who lived with their romantic partner or a snuggly quarantine pet were more likely to be pro-staying in than those who lived alone or relied exclusively on their friend networks for emotional support. Especially if they were college students.

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For traditional-aged college students who missed out on an entire year of socializing, 2020 served as a long and frustrating hiatus. “I think I probably want to be even more social now than before,” says Isabel Bosch, 20, a college student in L.A. who moved in with her parents for a year once classes went online. She plans on seeing old acquaintances and meeting new ones, as long as restrictions stay lax. “Quarantine made me a lot more appreciative of the time I do get to spend with friends.”

Others are somewhere in between — while they had their wild, hot vaxx summer and want to keep taking advantage of looser rules, their social battery is far from what it was pre-COVID. “Coming out of quarantine, I’m definitely more of a homebody than I was before,” says Shrinali Patel, 22, a college student in Michigan. Even though she’s had a very social summer, she says her energy levels are not what they once were. “I find myself turning down opportunities to go out because I just feel lazy sometimes, which is something that I never did before the pandemic.”

Whether the memory of quarantine tempts us to get wasted on a Tuesday night or reminds us how much more peaceful it was to bake artisanal breads at home, the social effects of our collective isolation has kept its grip on us. For some, riding the momentum of Hot Vaxx Summer into the autumn is an opportunity too good to pass up. But for others, partying these days — under these circumstances — just doesn’t hit the same. “When I stay in, I’ll make dinner, watch a movie, eat a brownie,” says Patel. “Meeting new people is starting to get exhausting.”