After more than 19 months, the U.S.-Canada border is open.
Beginning Monday, fully vaccinated travelers can now go to and from the U.S. and Canada. The Biden administration announced the loosening of restrictions last month.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced the border closed in March 2020, leaving small communities whose economies rely on Canadians struggling. In Point Roberts, Washington, which is located on a peninsula of British Columbia, residents remained isolated from the rest of the state.
But the news of reopening isn’t as welcome to border communities as first thought.
“It’s really mixed emotions,” said Jason Louie, chief of the Lower Kootenay Band in British Columbia.
To enter either country, a traveler must be fully vaccinated and have appropriate travel documents. To get into Canada, travelers must receive a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of crossing. The tests are often difficult to find and expensive.
Because Canada does not accept rapid testing, it is challenging for many Canadians to come to the U.S. for day trips, said Brian Calder, Point Roberts Chamber of Commerce president.
“It does not look like that will change imminently,” Calder said.
According to the Canadian government, the only test results that are accepted are molecular tests that often take more than one day to come in. Those traveling for trips less than 72 hours can get a test in Canada before leaving that will be good upon their return, according to the Canadian government.
But because the testing is expensive and sometimes difficult to find, it may not always be worth it for people to come down for just a day, Calder said.
Calder said about half of Point Roberts’ visitors spend a day or less in town.
Americans have been able to go to Canada since the country reopened its land borders to fully vaccinated travelers in August.
To cross into Canada, travelers must provide proof of vaccination and proof of a negative test on the ArriveCAN app prior to arriving. Those who are fully vaccinated do not need to quarantine once in Canada.
To cross into the United States, travelers must be prepared to verbally attest to vaccination status and present proof of being fully vaccinated, according to guidance from the Department of Homeland Security. The U.S. is not requiring a negative COVID-19 test.
Canada does have some flexibility with testing for those who travel frequently across the border, such as workers or those in Point Roberts who need to cross to come back into Washington, according to the Canadian government.
But Calder said requirements at the border depend heavily on which officer they get at the crossing.
For the Kootenai Tribe in North Idaho and the Lower Kootenay Band in British Columbia, reopening of the border means family will finally be reunited.
The two tribes are part of the Ktunaxa Nation with land on either side of the border. When the border is open, the two were connected, often having many cross-border ceremonies. Many tribal members have dual citizenship and cross to see family often.
Louie said he is still wary of crossing into the U.S.
“The COVID cases aren’t where they should be,” he said.
Louie encouraged the Nation members to “err on the side of caution” when thinking about going to the U.S. Louie said he does not anticipate holding any large ceremonies or powwows anytime soon.
In addition to land borders reopening, ferry services can resume between the two countries. For the first time since March 2020, the Black Ball Ferry will sail between Port Angeles, Washington, and Victoria, British Columbia.
The line will have two sailings a day through the remainder of the year. Ryan Malane, vice president and co-owner, said the morning sailings to the U.S. are booked for the next two weeks. That traffic is likely snowbirds coming down from Canada.
Travel from the U.S. to Canada, however, “looks very muted,” he said. Normally, traffic from Port Angeles consists of Americans going to Canada for a day or two, which isn’t always feasible given the testing requirement to get into Canada.
Malane said the service will be relying on some federal funding as they restart their service. If the testing requirement changes in Canada, Malane said he expects the ferry to have a “very robust” year.
“The public benefit for even the southbound traffic is really substantial,” Malane said. Tourists and snowbirds from Canada have a huge economic impact on Clallam County.
The ferry connects two communities, and Malane said he’s excited to get back to offering it.
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