Photos: Life in a ‘new normal’ of COVID-19

Share story

A woman looks out through a window
Joanne Judson, 87, an assisted living tenant at the Jones-Harrison Residence, smiles through a window in Minneapolis on April 23.
Angela Jimenez for MPR News

Social distancing, face masks, takeout and video chat have started to feel like an ever-evolving "new normal" more than a month into Minnesota's stay-at-home order. Routines and traditions like Easter and Ramadan have been adapted for a world with COVID-19, and it's unclear what our society will look like on the other end of this.

Here is a look at how all of our lives have changed since March 27.


Life interrupted

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our daily routines and traditions. With social distancing and a stay-at-home order in place, we have been forced to change the way we experience life and create community. Birthdays now look like parades and lawn chairs spaced out in driveways are not just for garage sales anymore.

Ms. Rosemary’s surprise birthday

Community connections

A global pandemic hasn’t stopped us from seeking ways to connect, even when physically apart. People are distributing face masks and food to help those who are vulnerable, and community singalongs are being organized to combat loneliness. 


Life at a distance

The elder population has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Congregate care facilities across the country are managing outbreaks, and have suffered a high percentage of deaths both nationally and in Minnesota. Care facilities are in lockdown mode, with nonessential visitors prohibited and in-person visits limited to windows, phone calls and video chats.

But what is it like for seniors adjusting to this time? We visited them through the window and talked to them on the phone, to hear what life is like for them.

Joanne Judson

A woman looks out through a window
Joanne Judson, 87, an assisted living tenant at the Jones-Harrison Residence in Minneapolis.
Angela Jimenez for MPR News

Joanne Judson, 87, an assisted living tenant at the Jones-Harrison Residence in Minneapolis, sits looking out her window on the first floor.

Next to her is a plant from the memorial service for her husband, John, a poet and retired creative writing and American literature professor who died last October. They were married for almost 60 years and raised four kids together.

They both lived at Jones-Harrison. He suffered from strokes, so he was in the memory care unit. They would spend time together, then she’d go to her room in the assisted living unit. A former librarian, she organized the library there and always has books to read. “It’s all alphabetical, to heck with the Dewey decimal system."

She and John always enjoyed music. “He could still sing and he knew all the words to all the old songs. We used to sing together.”

Their last date was watching the Edina Singing Seniors. “I leaned over to him and I said, ‘I just love you, love you, love you.’ I’d never said it before. He said ‘I love you, too’ and then he kissed me on the forehead. I said goodbye to him in the elevator and said I would see him in the morning.”

“But, I was OK with it. We had 15 years of his gradual diminishment and it was OK.”

Some resident couples are now separated by the coronavirus, not allowed to visit each other across units in the building while the staff works to contain the virus that has infected and killed some residents.

She wonders what that would have been like. “I’m really glad he’s not having to go through this up there and me down here. I don’t think they would let me go up to see him and that would be a real hardship for me.”

Elizabeth Dewey

A woman wearing a mask looks out through a window
Elizabeth Dewey, 96, an assisted living tenant at the Jones-Harrison Residence in Minneapolis.
Angela Jimenez for MPR News

“I’m okay, you know. How can we be?” said Elizabeth Dewey, 96, an assisted living tenant at Jones-Harrison Residence in Minneapolis. “But, it’s a good life.”

One of her eight children, her only son Rob, lives nearby: “They don’t come any better.” Her husband died 10 years ago and Rob helps take care of her, bringing her groceries and her medications, now seeing her through the glass.

She and her husband, a WWII Air Force pilot, married at 19. They moved often for his military career, living in 29 different places.

One silver lining of the quarantine is that all of her girls, who live apart, are connecting to each other online. “Every Sunday at noon,” she says, “they get on some – I don’t know what these gadgets are – and they look at each other and talk. And I just love it because, they are finally able to be a family a little bit.” She does not get on the video chat. “Lucky if I can answer the phone," she laughs.

“That my kids can’t come to see me, that’s my biggest complaint.” They all had tickets to come for her birthday, or for Mother’s Day. “You want your family, you want your people.”

She misses touch. “You want to touch, you want to hug. At least, I was brought up that way,” she says. “The staff here is so excellent. I love the people that come to me and help.”

“They do separate little courtesies for you, and you want to hug them. So I practically have to sit on my hands.”

Gene Streiff

A man looks out through a window.
Gene Streiff, 89, an assisted living resident at Presbyterian Homes & Services Norris Square location in Cottage Grove.
Angela Jimenez for MPR News

For years, Gene Streiff, 89, was a truck mechanic and a long-haul trucker, driving Peterbilt 18-wheelers all over the country. He was on the road six or seven days out of every week. The cab of the truck was his home on the road.

It suited him fine, he says. “You are so tired. You’ve got everything: TV, radio, bed."

He and his wife came to Minnesota to visit their son. His wife got sick and he stayed. During this time of pandemic, nonsymptomatic residents can still visit common areas at a social distance and go outside.

There are coronavirus cases within the Presbyterian residence system in Minnesota, but so far this location doesn’t have a known case. He reads the news on the computer, and stays in his room more now.

“It don’t bother me. Being in a room here is big compared to what I am used to,” he says. “I stayed in the truck most of the time. This is pretty fancy. I’ve got a bedroom, a big front room, a pretty good-sized kitchen.”

His power chair is his truck now. He usually spends a lot of time riding it around the park. Now keeps busy working crossword puzzles and talking on Skype with friends and family. He doesn’t watch much TV, maybe Gold Rush on Fridays and some Weather Channel.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” he says of the pandemic. “

“They say they got a vaccine for it, but it takes time to test it and get it out. They had 21 deaths yesterday. Like the governor says, stay home.”

He thinks we will see it through. And he doesn’t feel too worried for himself. “Not at my age, you know,” he says. “Nothing is forever.”

Marvel Norton

A woman looks out through a window
Marvel Norton, an assisted living tenant at the Jones-Harrison Residence in Minneapolis
Angela Jimenez for MPR News

Marvel Norton wears a T-shirt that says “Make Trouble.” She is 87, but this week she said she feels older.

“It seems like I’ve aged 100 years in the last couple of weeks,” she says. “It’s not an easy time. The time goes slow. You can’t see your friends. You can’t see anybody. It’s lockdown, you know. That’s not fun.”

Residents eat in their rooms, and the plentiful social gatherings and activities are all canceled for now. Socially-distanced visits to the communal courtyard are helping her, especially now that spring is here. “Luckily the sun is out and I can go down to the garden and sit in the sun,” she says. “That’s a blessing in itself. I do see a few of my friends down there.”

She says the hardest part for her, a social person who likes to laugh, is “People – not seeing people. Making jokes and telling stories.”

The virus doesn’t scare her. What does is the thought that the social restrictions could last indefinitely. “It’s like a slow death,” she says.

She and her second husband traveled widely, including a memorable trip to Zambia. But traveling got harder as she aged: “It’s no fun to travel anymore. You never know when you’re going to end up.”

She’s grounded now, like all the airplanes. It reminds her of 9/11, when the skies last emptied. “It was so quiet, it was just wonderful. That’s what it reminds me of.”

Colleen Jackson

A woman looks out through a window
Colleen Jackson, 86, an assisted living tenant at the Jones-Harrison Residence in Minneapolis.
Angela Jimenez for MPR News

Colleen Jackson, 86, is a frequent, happy face around the building. On a normal day, she says, “I just go to breakfast and visit with all the girls.” She walks around outside, exercises in the fitness room and dances with the teenage volunteers.

For now, that is all canceled, and people eat in their own rooms.

“Oh, I accept it,” she says. She makes sense of it like this: “What is there else to do? You just have to protect yourself otherwise you will be in your room the rest of the year.”

“I’m feeling sorry for myself,” she scolds herself, laughing a little.

As a girl, she lived at the St. Paul Catholic Orphanage and she remembers people feeling sorry for her then, too.

“People thought, ‘Oh my God you poor thing.’ I said, well, those were the happiest days of my life. I had people to play with.” She still remembers the address, 933 Carroll St.

“I was the happiest ever, I think, yeah,” she says. “We always had something to do all the time.”

When she had to leave after graduation, she remembers feeling “very, very sad.”

She worked at The Woman’s Club of Minneapolis, and remembers fondly interacting with all the people there. Now, she still has phone calls and visits from family and friends.

“You have to make the best of everything,” she says.


Civil disobedience

The risk of illness and the economic impacts of COVID-19 have disrupted how we live our lives in different ways, and people have been making their voices heard about the way they think things should be done. Cars have lined up in front of the governor’s mansion to call for the release of prisoners, and to demand to be able to get back to work. 

Working in care 

Health care workers are doing what they are trained to do: taking care of the sick. But the onslaught of COVID-19 cases continues to be a challenge as they continue to work at the risk of being infected themselves.

Before you go...

MPR News is dedicated to bringing you clarity in coverage from our reporters across the state, stories that connect us, and conversations that provide perspectives when we need it most. We rely on your help to do this. Your donation has the power to keep MPR News strong and accessible to all during this crisis and beyond.