Ari Shapiro

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Politicians and pop stars often come back to the same refrain.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ME AND BOBBY MCGEE")

JANIS JOPLIN: (Singing) Freedom is just another word for nothin' left to lose.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "FREEDOM")

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Not long ago, Denver Public Schools nurse Rebecca Sposato was packing up her office at the end of a difficult school year. She remembers looking around at all her cleaning supplies and extra masks and thinking, "What am I going to do with all this stuff?"

It was May, when vaccine appointments were opening up for the majority of adults and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention were loosening mask guidance.

"I honestly thought we were trending down in our COVID numbers, trending up in our vaccine numbers," she says. "And I thought the worst was over."

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Updated August 14, 2021 at 10:58 AM ET

Many people were calling this the "hot vax summer," as growing vaccination numbers against the coronavirus meant a rebound in travel, and early summer CDC guidance said it was safe to return to eating indoors at restaurants and bars.

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Before he produced some of the biggest rap and R&B songs of the 1990s, Chucky Thompson made a name for himself in his hometown of Washington, D.C.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHUCK BROWN & THE SOUL SEARCHERS SONG, "BUSTIN' LOOSE")

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