What’s it really like for a family to be in mandatory, at-home quarantine following a trip to Europe? One Minnesota family of five has been gracious enough to allow us the opportunity to peer in through the metaphorical window to understand the differences between quarantine and the “stay-at-home” experience many of us have chosen – at least until Governor Tim Walz makes that a mandate.

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Why not start at the beginning, when this family of five returned from Paris only to go into immediate at-home quarantine? Next up, they shared their”new” routines that requires regular health screenings and creative ways to tackle boredom.

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As a refresher, parents Shelley and Matt, and their children – Norah, Lucy and Connor – returned to Minnesota after experiencing an eerily quiet, still version of Paris as residents in the City of Lights began to stay home and normally bustling street cafes shuttered their doors. Because COVID-19 was starting to take a hold in Europe, the family was ordered into at-home quarantine upon their return. Now more than half way through their experience, they’ve been following CDC requirements and, like many of us, are adjusting to a new shape to their collective life.

While the patterns of everyday life have been disrupted for most of us who are practicing social-distancing, Shelley took the time to answer some of my questions about the changes her family have experienced while sheltering in place during the past week.

Luke Heikkila (LH): Now that you’re more than half-way through this 14-day quarantine, how are you and the people in your family feeling?

Shelley (S): Physically, we are all still feeling healthy. No one has any respiratory symptoms. No one has had any elevated temps. Matt has had trouble sleeping since this all started, so luckily he is home near his bed and can take a quick nap [during his work day] if need be.

Mentally, everyone may be a bit more spiky and short than usual.

LH: Since no one is showing signs of illness, the quarantine experience is different than it would be if someone was presenting symptoms of COVID-19. That said, what has surprised you most during the past week? Have there been any hidden benefits?

S: Having been together on spring break in Europe for 10 days prior to being quarantined, I expected us to be a lot more annoyed with each other than we have been. Of course, we have had some fights and some disagreements, but being stuck here together gives us time to argue and work it out, instead of running off to work or practice and leaving things unresolved. We are able to take the time to cool off and come back together to work it out. I guess that’s a hidden benefit: the time to argue. Meal time together every lunch and dinner has been great, too, without the forced rush of a looming evening event.

As American parents, we talk about over-scheduled kids, meals on the go and being taxi drivers, as stressors. This is a forced end to all that, perhaps that is the hidden benefit?

LH: Are you feeling more sedentary? What sort of effects is this having? How do you think you can begin to overcome this feeling?

S: The kids and I are definitely more sedentary. Luckily, we have two dogs who demand walks, so we try and walk them twice a day, keeping our distance from fellow walkers in the park near our house. Matt has still been diligent about working out and has gone running a few times, alone. He set up Family Boot Camp for us that we started a few days ago. It was hard to keep the kids serious about it, but I would call it a success. We were all sore the next day.


LH: What are some small details you can share about what today has been like?

S: Today was Monday, so Matt was back to work at his home office. I try and get the kids up by 9 o’clock or so to keep them on a regular sleeping schedule. I like to take Norah (15) to practice driving as the streets aren’t busy now, and we will drive to her boyfriend’s house, where they will talk for a few minutes while keeping a safe distance. We have resorted to using a 7-foot pole that they each hold the end of if they want to walk away for a bit. Or placing chairs over 7 feet away so they can sit down and yell to each other from a safe distance. Love in the time of COVID-19!

We have started playing Dungeons and Dragons with the five of us. It’s a very complicated and involved game, so we do it an hour or so a day. There is usually someone at the table who is uninterested or focused elsewhere, so it’s work keeping everyone engaged, but our Dungeon-master Matt does a pretty good job.

Matt, working from home, has struggled with the noise while he is on calls. While I assure him that every household with kids is dealing with the same issues of life in the background.

LH: How are your children, aged 15, 13 and 11, dealing with being alone together?

S: The three kids are mostly getting along. Remember – we have been alone together since [the start of vacation on] March 5. The girls – sisters – are either giggling and best friends, or cursing each other saying they are never going to talk again. Pretty typical. Connor, our son, he gets along with everyone. He and Lucy are good friends, and she has been hanging with him quite a bit, playing basketball together, walking the dogs, doing photo shoots and TikTok videos, and playing Xbox with Connor and his friends online. Lucy really misses her friends, but she FaceTimes her best friend, Grace, often, as we can hear cackles coming from her room. Connor talks with his pals on Xbox gaming, but he really misses school.

LH: You’ve asked your 13-year-old to write a journal, and you’ve received her permission to share some of what she’s written. What has she shared? How do you think this will change her outlook on the world?

S: Lucy says she’s not scared by the virus. Her stress comes from being secluded from her friends. I feel her personal view of the world has broadened quite a bit. She saw what was happening in Paris and how what was happening there is now happening here. It’s a good lesson to realize that, no matter how large the world may seem, we are all connected.

A page from 13-year-old Lucy’s journal.
A few days later and still in decent-enough spirits.

LH: A pandemic is something today’s parents have not had to parent through before. Have you changed any of the ways you parent? Are you more relaxed? More strict?

S: The way we parent hasn’t changed much since we have been home. We have been strict on the quarantine guidelines given to us by the CDC. We allow Norah to see Wyatt [her boyfriend], but are adamant that they stay far away from each other. We have been pretty lax about doing any schoolwork-related things thus far, aside from reading. The kids’ media usage is certainly higher than we would normally allow. Once the school curriculum begins again, we will get the kids back on a schedule so they can continue to make academic progress.

The kids are adjusting and scared, too, so we think letting them have some unstructured downtime is okay.

LH: From working at home, to buying groceries, to staying connected, how might this two-week quarantine be different if it happened during the pre-internet age? Paint me a picture. What would you do without the internet?

S: If there was no internet, we would be talking on the telephone a lot more, and there would be massive fights over who gets to use it and when. We would have to rely on friends and family to get our groceries and supplies [instead of the online delivery services]. The main difference without internet would be having to rely on friends, family, neighbors and coworkers for assistance.

LH: What are you looking most-forward to once the quarantine has been lifted?

S: It’s probably not that much different than what everyone is going through. I really miss being able to see my parents, Matt’s parents, our siblings, nieces, nephews and friends.

Stay tuned for more updates as this family of five continues to navigate the unknown experience of quarantine at home.
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In a newfound era of social distancing, two longtime friends got together to play a game of disc golf as a way to feel normal when everything else is anything but. Keeping a minimum six-foot distance, Twin Cities Producer Luke Heikkila tagged along to learn how others are finding creative ways to be social together – and spaced far apart at the same time.

Like so many Minnesotans, Twin Cities PBS Producer Luke Heikkila found himself suddenly camped out at his dining-room-table-turned-desk after a work-from-home mandate. But then he realized something: His neighbors were spending a lot of time outside. So he decided to check in with them to see how they’re faring in this time of COVID-19.

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.