Publication Outlet: Reuters
Publication Date: 3/30/21
Yoshia Uomoto, 98, reacts as her son Mark Uomoto and niece Gail Yamada surprise her with their first in-person visit in a year after indoor visitation restrictions due to coronavirus disease (COVID-19) were lifted at Nikkei Manor, an assisted living facility primarily serving Japanese American seniors, in Seattle, Washington, U.S. March 30, 2021. Residents, who have all been fully vaccinated, can visit with family for an hour at a time.
When Washington state announced nursing homes with residents vaccinated against COVID-19 were able to resume in-person visits, I was able to arrange to photograph a few families as they reunited with parents at Nikkei Manor, an assisted living facility primarily serving Japanese Americans in Seattle. Mark Uomoto and his cousin Gail Yamada had come to surprise Mark's 98-year-old mother Yoshia "Yo" Uomoto, their first in-person visit in over a year.
Since the pandemic started, they could only visit through windows in the lobby. This had been especially difficult for Yoshia, who is hard of hearing. A staff member who took me over to Yoshia's room told her I was there for a surprise and asked her to cover her eyes. With Yoshia's eyes covered, Mark and Gail walked in holding flowers and a balloon. Mark simply leaned over and said quietly, "Hi Mom." Yoshia uncovered her eyes and exclaimed, "It's so nice to see you!" and reached for a hug. The photo of the reunion went viral and led outlets like Buzzfeed News and Good Morning America to write follow up stories based on my images.
I think the family's moment resonated with so many people because it represented an outpouring of emotions-- excitement, sadness, relief-- that many were experiencing as they reconnected with their loved ones after such a difficult year. While the pandemic wasn't over, it marked a milestone the Uomotos and thousands of other families were reaching as more people began to receive their vaccines.
The image would go on to be featured on several pictures of the year lists, including TIME's Top 100 Photos of 2021, NBC’s 2021 in Pictures, CNN's 2021 Pictures of the Year, Buzzfeed News’s Most Powerful Photos of 2021, and The Atlantic's Top 25 News Photos of the Year. It was also chosen as the image to represent the U.S. in Reuters's "One Picture, One Country, One Year" gallery, and was featured in their global 2021 pictures of the year gallery.