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Barbara Thomas of Tampa lost her husband of 37 years to COVID-19 on Jan. 22. Photo: Octavio Jones for Axios

When Tampa's Barbara Thomas signed up to get her COVID-19 vaccine, she didn't think she'd be getting the shot six days after the virus killed her husband, Larry.

Why it matters: Her story is similarly playing out for hundreds of thousands of families nationwide who can never truly have a return to normal without those lost during the pandemic.

What happened: When 68-year-old Larry walked himself into the hospital on Jan. 3, Barbara, 69, didn't think it would be their last goodbye. "I just never knew that when I saw him go around that corner, I would never see him again," she told Selene.

  • She talked to her husband on the phone for the last time on Jan. 10. When she asked what he would do for her birthday the next day, he said he would call.
  • But he never did. His condition worsened, and Thomas spent the first birthday in their 37-year marriage without him. She spent Valentine's Day without him too — the same day she got her second vaccine dose.
Barbara and Larry Thomas. Photo courtesy of Barbara Thomas

What she misses: Every weekend for almost four decades, their home would fill with the smells of breakfast as he cooked for her.

  • Now, Barbara's family has to make sure she eats:
"Today, I went to my daughter's house for dinner and it just seemed like he should have been there. ... I had to take a picture alone because he wasn't there to take a picture with me.
"There are moments where I haven't let him go ... it's like he's still here. He's just not in the room with me right now. I guess I'm just not ready to let him go."

What's next: Barbara wishes she and Larry could have gotten their shots sooner, together. It's painful for her to see people celebrating their vaccinations or recoveries, but she's trying not to sit in her anger.

  • She wants people to continue taking precautions and getting their vaccines for one another:
"I just want everybody to feel enough love for each other that we keep each other safe. When I'm wearing my mask, I'm not wearing it for me, I'm wearing it for you."

This story first appeared in the Axios Tampa Bay newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.

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Go deeper

Retail sales flat in April after huge surge in March

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

April retail sales in the U.S. were unchanged from March, which saw a surge revised up to 10.7%, according to the latest Commerce Department report published Friday.

Why it matters: The U.S. has been entering a period of growing optimism in the wake of the vaccine rollout, falling new COVID-19 cases and deaths, and a slowly recovering labor market. Retail sales were up 51% year-over-year compared to April 2020.

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A new policy roadmap provides Congress and the White House with ways to support the growth of methods to pull carbon dioxide from the atmosphere using everything from existing forests to direct air capture machines.

Driving the news: Recent climate studies, such as the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's 1.5-degree report, have pointed to the clear need for society to pursue strategies for driving carbon emissions into negative territory by the latter half of the century.

New CDC mask guidance tests risk tolerance

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The CDC announced Thursday that fully vaccinated people no longer need to wear masks indoors.

Why it matters: The U.S. is entering a new stage in the pandemic where the public — vaccinated or not — will need to assess its own risk tolerance in shared spaces.