Imagine visiting the Eiffel Tower – the world’s top paid tourist attraction – and bounding up its 704 steps or rising to the tippy-top via its elevator without the hassle of crowds. Imagine the bustling, storied boulevards of Paris rendered suddenly quiet.

This is neither a dream nor a work of science fiction. It’s Paris in this moment, as a previously unknown virus has brought the City of Lights and other parts of the world to a virtual standstill.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, a Minnesota family of five, under orders from the CDC, is now self-quarantined at home after returning from a vacation to London and Paris. Shelley and Matt, and their children – Norah, Lucy and Connor – saw all of the sights they expected to see during their 10 days of travel, with one exception: crowds.

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This is the first installment in a series of updates from a Minnesota family experiencing the unknown: two weeks of at-home quarantine after returning from a trip to Europe. We’ll be regularly checking in with the family as they navigate their new normal of living “alone together.” Check back for updates.

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The family stands before the Louvre Pyramid shortly before the city went quiet.

While touring the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre, the family was taken aback by how few people were at Paris’ top tourist destinations. Tour guides mentioned that this sort of elbow room while taking in the Mona Lisa was unprecedented, and they also shared their fears over COVID-19’s impact on the tourist industry.

But even as they made their way through the city, Paris started to roll up its famous welcome mat: The Eiffel Tower closed a few hours after they enjoyed the views from the top; restaurants and cafes closed their doors and pulled in their tables.

COVID-19 was shutting Paris down.

Their airline rescheduled their flight and routed them through Atlanta on their way back to MSP. They were screened for the coronavirus while still on the plane in Atlanta and got through customs quickly before boarding another plane that would bring them back to Minnesota.

A day consisting of 20 hours of travel ended as the family landed, gathered their luggage and were driven home. As they crossed their very own threshold, another adventure was about to begin, one consisting of 14 days of at-home quarantine. “I have never been as relieved and excited to be back in this country. The thought of being quarantined in a different country was literally terrifying,” Matt reflects.

After their first night home, Shelley adds, “Being home is such a huge relief! Not needing to worry about who is coughing around you, wiping down all tables and surfaces, watching my kids touch their faces or bite their fingernails in horror. Being at home with our own germs is an amazing feeling.”

Over the course of the next two weeks, we will be checking in with Shelley, Matt and the kids to see how their health is faring, to discover how COVID-19 might be affecting them and to understand what sheltering in-place feels like for a family with two teenagers and an eleven-year-old.

Home Sweet Home
Connor, Lucy, Matt, Norah and Shelley are finally “alone together.”

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Because the COVID-19 pandemic is an evolving issue in Minnesota, Twin Cities PBS is producing a weekly show, Coronavirus: An Almanac Special, where we share practical information from trusted medical sources so all Minnesotans know the steps to prepare for the coronavirus. 

We also have a list of resources from trusted organizations such as the Minnesota Department of Health, the CDC and the WHO, along with articles from our friends at Next Avenue and PBS Kids. You’ll also find multilingual versions of Coronavirus: An Almanac Special in Somali, Hmong and Spanish.