Lawmakers Urge End to COVID Closure That 'Completely Halted' Life Along U.S.-Canada Border

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With news that the U.S. and Canada plan to extend the closure of their border another month in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, a Washington state Congressional delegation led by Rep. Suzan DelBene sent a letter Monday to President Joe Biden urging his administration to work with Canadian officials to safely reopen the border.

The latest extension of the border closure, which was announced Friday, Feb. 19, bans non-essential travel between the two countries until at least March 21 — one year since the border officially closed on March 21, 2020, as the COVID-19 crisis began.

The closure, which was initially scheduled to last a month, has since been extended 11 times on a month-by-month basis — many times only days before it was set to expire.

"Minimizing the risk presented by COVID-19 and prioritizing the safety of our communities remains of utmost importance while the U.S. and Canada work to overcome this public health crisis.," the lawmakers wrote in the letter, which was provided to The Bellingham Herald by DelBene's office. "However, as we approach one year of restricted travel, individuals, families, businesses, and communities on both sides of the border have been significantly impacted by these restrictions."

The lawmakers cited the economic hardships the border closing has created, particularly in Whatcom County, where nearly 7 million trips were made into Whatcom County by Canadian visitors in 2018, and approximately one-quarter of those visitors spent an estimated $138 million in area businesses and stores.

Last year, the letter stated, crossings were down 98%, "severely restricting the economic activity and tax revenue of this border community."

"During the pandemic daily life has been uprooted in many ways for all of us, but for communities dependent upon cross-border interactions, life has completely halted," the lawmakers wrote.

The lawmakers asked the President's administration to utilize public health data and science and cooperation with Canadian officials to make decisions that would allow border traffic to begin to resume.

In particular, the lawmakers' letter asked the Biden administration to prioritize:

— Establishing a bilateral plan to ease restrictions and restore travel between the two countries.

— Providing vaccination and testing of all essential U.S. Customs and Border Protection employees to allow for a safe border reopening.

— Matching Canadian travel exemptions to allow families and loved ones to cross the border and reunite.

— Creating policy to allow property owners to cross the border to maintain their property.

— Working with Canada to allow transportation through boundary waters.

— Allowing isolated Whatcom County residents in Point Roberts, cut off by the border closure, to cross through Canada to reach the U.S. mainland.

— Permitting American schoolchildren in border communities and enrolled in Canadian schools to cross into Canada to receive their education.

— Ensuring that U.S. cruise ships are able to make technical and service stops in Canada, once cruise ships are allowed to resume service, if the CDC and Canadian health authorities agree that all protocols have been established and met by the ships and ports.

Additionally, the delegation asked that Canada be asked to apply border restrictions uniformly, rather than allowing Canadian Border Services Agency agents to determine what is an isn't an essential border crossing at their own discretion.

"The United States and Canada have a special partnership and a long history of close cooperation," the lawmakers wrote. "We hope this close relationship can lead to swift action between our two countries to safely restore cross border travel while continuing to protect the health and safety of our communities."

Swab tests at border

Beginning Monday, Feb. 22, Canada began providing mandatory COVID-19 swab test kits at its land ports of entry from the United States, according to a story by The International News.

Unless exempt, all travelers entering Canada are required to take a test utilizing the self-swab kit, either at the traveler's quarantine location or at a border testing site, The International News reported.

All travelers to Canada are required to take two COVID tests — one on the day of their arrival and one after their 14-day quarantine period, according to the story. Additionally, travelers flying into a Canadian airport must undergo a three-day stay at a quarantine hotel at their own expense while they await the results of their test.

The kits will be handed out at all 117 land points of entry, according to a Yahoo Finance story on the measure. On-site testing will be available at five high-volume ports of entry, according to the story, with 11 additional crossings being added by March 4.

The kits will include instructions on how to collect specimens and when travelers must get their second test, Yahoo Finance reported.

The Canadian Armed Forces helped establish a testing site at the Peace Arch crossing from Blaine, according to the the Surrey Now-Leader. The Canadian Armed Forces will not be involved in testing, quarantine or enforcement of the new rules, the story reported, only with support planning, logistics and set up of the testing sites.

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(c)2021 The Bellingham Herald (Bellingham, Wash.)

Visit The Bellingham Herald (Bellingham, Wash.) at www.bellinghamherald.com

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