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Roseau native and his family living in Spain make the best of the country's strict COVID-19 restrictions

Under Spain’s restrictions, which are in effect until at least April 27, people can only leave the yard to walk their dogs or go to the grocery store or pharmacy. Even then, it’s not unusual to be stopped by authorities who then check identifications to make sure people aren’t straying too far from home, said Tim Simmons, a Minnesota native who graduated from Roseau High School and Bemidji State University.

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The Tim Simmons family stands outside their home in El Escorial, Spain, northwest of Madrid, on Thursday, April 16, with their dog, Annie. From left are Tim Simmons, Nico Simmons, Maria Goded, Matthew Simmons and Lucas Simmons. Tim Simmons is a graduate of Roseau High School and Bemidji State University, and the family has relatives throughout northwest Minnesota and other parts of the state. (Photo courtesy of Tim Simmons)

If this was a normal spring, Tim Simmons and his family would be looking forward to traveling from their home in Spain near Madrid to visit friends and family in Minnesota on an extended summer vacation.

This isn’t a normal spring.

Like nearly everyone else on the planet, the Roseau High School and Bemidji State University graduate and his wife, Maria Goded, and three sons — Nico, 23; Lucas, 21; and Matthew, 17 — are hunkered down because of the COVID-19 pandemic. They’ve been living under Spain’s stringent shelter-in-place order since March 11, Simmons said.

“First, everybody went home, and the schools shut down, and that was wave number one, and that was pretty big,” Simmons said. “And then, people were tightened down even more.

“I think it just took a couple of days for people to realize that means you’re supposed to stay home all day, every day.”


Under Spain’s restrictions, which are in effect until at least April 27, people can only leave the yard to walk their dogs or go to the grocery store or pharmacy, Simmons said. Even then, it’s not unusual to be stopped by authorities who then check identifications to make sure people aren’t straying too far from home, he said.

“They’re nice, and it’s all pretty empathetic, but they’re controlling it more and more because they just figured that’s the way to do it,” Simmons said. “They figured, ‘If we’re going to do it, let’s do it right.’”

Larger grocery stores also have beefed up their safety protocols, Simmons said, with employees at entrances and exits and cashiers at every counter to spread out shoppers.

As in the U.S., masks and sanitizer are prevalent.

“Those are like the brand-name grocery stores that have that,” Simmons said. “But if you go to a little neighborhood place, they don’t have it; it’s just a guy behind the counter with a mask on and gloves, I guess, most of the time.”

Hard-hit country

Like Italy, Spain has been one of the hardest-hit European countries during the pandemic. As of Thursday, April 16, the country had 182,816 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 19,130 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University’s Coronavirus Research Center.

New cases of COVID-19 are on the decline after peaking in late March, but violations of the shelter-in-place order can result in fines the equivalent of about $1,100, Simmons said.

Getting stopped by authorities while out and about happens about half the time.


“If you take your dog out for a walk, they record it,” Simmons said. “The police have laptops in their cars. They don’t just look at your ID and then say ‘OK, make sure you go straight home.’ They take down your ID number, and then they are tracking, and they can see the last time that somebody picked up your ID number and where you were.

“So every time you get stopped by a policeman, they’re taking in data.”

Despite the pause in normal life, Simmons says he feels fortunate. The family lives in a big house with a big yard in the small town of El Escorial about 30 miles northwest of Madrid and its population of more than 6.6 million people; they have plenty of room to spread out.

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In addition to taking college courses online, Nico Simmons has been practicing guitar at his family's home northwest of Madrid during the COVID-19 shutdown. Nico's dad, Tim Simmons, is a Minnesota native with numerous family and friends in his home state. (Photo courtesy of Tim Simmons)

“Everybody’s got their own room, everybody’s got an internet connection and a computer in their room, and everybody can do their school or their work or whatever,” he said. “So, to be totally honest, it’s not uncomfortable for me. But if we lived in a flat in the center of Madrid, that would be pretty tough. I think it must be a huge difference for people that live in apartment buildings.”

Simmons said he knows only one person who contracted the coronavirus. She was hospitalized for about a week but since has recovered.

The new normal

Executive creative director in the Madrid office of Superunion, a global branding agency headquartered in London, Simmons is putting in long workdays at home, overseeing a 40-person team of designers and keeping in touch on numerous virtual platforms. His two oldest sons are taking their college courses remotely — Nico returned home from Tilburg University in the Netherlands, and Lucas from the Madrid campus of Florida-based Schiller International University — and youngest son Matthew is completing his junior year in high school online.


“They didn’t skip a beat,” Simmons said. “They just came home, and the first day home they were online doing their classes online.”

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Brothers Lucas (left) and Nico Simmons in Heidelberg, Germany, in October 2019. (Photo courtesy of Tim Simmons)

Wife Maria, who organizes classical music tours and festivals as owner of Maria Goded Music Management, has been most affected by fallout from the pandemic, Simmons said.

“All of the concerts she had planned on her calendar have all been wiped out, so she’s a little concerned about her business,” he said. “But she’s found things to keep herself busy. She’s doing a tremendous amount of cooking and put an Excel spreadsheet together to get all of the boys to each chip in on a cleaning schedule.”

Cultural impact

No doubt, the shelter-in-place order has been difficult, given traditional Spanish culture, which might have played a role in the extent of the pandemic, Simmons said.

“Spain is a pretty social country,” he said. “People are not used to staying at home.”

Socializing these days is limited to the occasional “Skype drink” with friends in Spain, Simmons said. He’s also using the technology to keep in touch with friends and relatives in Minnesota, who live in communities such as Roseau, Red Lake Falls and the Twin Cities.


For now, that’s the best he can do. Plans for an August visit to Minnesota and a lake house they planned to rent near Park Rapids are in limbo, Simmons says.

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Tim Simmons, a Roseau, Minn., native, with a 27-inch walleye he caught in July 2019 while on a vacation to Minnesota from his home near Madrid. (Photo/ Brad Dokken, Grand Forks Herald)

“We were going to take that for two or three weeks and just camp out there and have an open door policy and tell people to just come and visit us because we figured that was a good location,” he said. “We’re just going to see if we can put it back on track. We’ve got a little more time, I think, and hopefully things will be under control by then.

“But who knows?”

Reach Dokken at (701) 780-1148 or bdokken@gfherald.com.

Brad Dokken joined the Herald company in November 1985 as a copy editor for Agweek magazine and has been the Grand Forks Herald's outdoors editor since 1998.

Besides his role as an outdoors writer, Dokken has an extensive background in northwest Minnesota and Canadian border issues and provides occasional coverage on those topics.

Reach him at bdokken@gfherald.com, by phone at (701) 780-1148 or on Twitter at @gfhoutdoor.
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