The last time Matt Noland had a chance to visit face-to-face with his parents, Frank and Janet Noland, was September.

That was until Friday, Feb. 12, when Matt Noland and his children, Grant, 13, and Gracelynn, 6, had the chance to catch up in a heated garage, across a 6-foot table. Before and after the short visit, the couple even had a chance to hug their son and grandchildren for the first time since the start of the pandemic.

Plastic draped from an iron frame with holes for arms to reach through provided an additional barrier to the masks, gowns and gloves the family wore as they embraced for the first time in months.

For residents at one of the Harmony House assisted living communities in the village of Superior, visits with loved ones have been restricted because of the coronavirus.

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Grant Noland (right), 11, hugs his grandmother, Janet Noland, through a plastic tarp Friday, Feb. 12, in a garage at Harmony House in Superior. Janet and her husband, Frank, were surprised to see their son and grandchildren and even more surprised to have a chance to hug them. "They can do that every day!" Janet said of the experience. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)
Grant Noland (right), 11, hugs his grandmother, Janet Noland, through a plastic tarp Friday, Feb. 12, in a garage at Harmony House in Superior. Janet and her husband, Frank, were surprised to see their son and grandchildren and even more surprised to have a chance to hug them. "They can do that every day!" Janet said of the experience. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

Matt Noland said he tried a window visit with his parents in October, but nearly froze.

Tami Susens, Harmony House administrator, said staff started brainstorming after they lost a resident two weeks ago.

“It really hit me that (the person's family) didn’t get to see their mom since the weather got cold," Susens said. "We’ve got to figure out something before something else happens.”

That’s when house manager Shelby Hobson ran across an idea on Pinterest, Susens said.

Hobson provided the metal frame to drape the plastic. Harmony House staff gathered gloves, gowns and masks to ensure the safety of everyone involved in the special visits just in time for Valentine’s Day.

Susens said they also got valentines for the residents to sign, saying they would put them in the mail to their family members to keep the visits a surprise. Staff arranged appointments with family members, keeping the visits planned for Thursday, Feb. 11, and Friday, Feb. 12.

Once the visits started, residents who had a chance to meet with their loved ones were asked to keep the secret for people who hadn’t yet seen their families.

The valentines were given to the families when they finally had a chance to meet face-to-face.

Harmony House residents Frank and Janet Noland are seen through a hole in a plastic tarp that was used to hug family members Friday, Feb. 12, during a socially distanced visit in a garage in Superior. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)
Harmony House residents Frank and Janet Noland are seen through a hole in a plastic tarp that was used to hug family members Friday, Feb. 12, during a socially distanced visit in a garage in Superior. (Tyler Schank / tschank@duluthnews.com)

“They’ve been pretty good about keeping the secret too,” Susens said. “We haven’t been able to get any other work done, but it’s been so worth it.”

During the visits Thursday, residents shed tears and offered their gratitude after seeing their family members for the first time in months, Susens said. Overall, families have been supportive of more restrictive visitations, which has allowed the community-based residential facility to remain free from COVID-19 through the pandemic, she said.

Janet and Frank Noland walked through the corridor between the house and attached garage and peaked around the plastic. Both uttered their surprise with an “oh” and Janet said: “I haven’t seen them in a long time.”

Hobson assisted the couple with putting on gowns, masks and gloves as Matt Noland and his children added gowns and plastic gloves to their attire. Then Hobson helped Janet, and then Frank, at the plastic for some long overdue hugs, before the family sat down at opposite ends of the table to catch up. Afterward, they again made their way to the plastic for another hug before saying their goodbyes.

“We’re lucky to have a heated garage,” Hobson said.

“It’s really nice to see them,” Matt Noland said. “It’s been a long time ... It’s been really hard because they’re dependent on seeing people. We did window visits then once it got cold, it really cut things down a lot.”

The younger Noland said at one point his father “kicked him out” and told him it was time to leave because of the weather.

“I wasn’t expecting this,” Janet Noland said. “It was a very nice surprise. They could do that every day ... I don’t get to do that much.”

Hobson said she wished they could.

“Maybe we’ll think of something for St. Patrick’s Day next month,” Hobson said.