Then he learned he was subject to a mandate: City Hall had decided that staff at some after-school programs should be vaccinated along with public school employees. Mr. Hughes briefly pondered quitting.
“I don’t have a boatload of money,” he said. “If I did, I could outlast this. But I have to earn a buck.”
On his way to work on Sept. 23, he ducked inside a mobile vaccine clinic and got a dose of the Moderna vaccine.
“I fought a long and hard fight,” he said. “It was taken out of my hands with the mandate.”
He told friends that he had gotten vaccinated, even sending around a video of the moment, knowing it might encourage other holdouts. But he has not made peace with what happened.
“I’m not OK with it to be honest with you,” he said recently.
The case worker
Xibelli Valdespino, 25
Last December, four generations of Xibelli Valdespino’s family, from her 7-year-old son to her 86-year-old grandfather, gathered for Christmas Eve. Within a day, they began testing positive for Covid-19. Her grandfather soon died, and her mother struggled to breathe. Ms. Valdespino felt so ill she wondered whether she would ever recover.
For a long time after, she was angry: at God, at the pandemic, at herself.
“Maybe if I had taken this more seriously and we had not all gathered together for Christmas, maybe my grandfather would be here,” said Ms. Valdespino, a case worker whose clients are people with mental illness.
Yet her initial response was to reject the vaccine. She worried about side effects. She had also encountered strange and untrue conspiracy theories on social media and was unable to dismiss them. The vaccines magnetized people, causing spoons to stick to your body, according to one. The vaccines lowered the quality of your blood, according to another.