U.S.-Canada border opening: Families rejoice, experts not expecting ‘explosion’ in COVID-19 cases

·3-min read

A few years after Stace Dayment had her first daughter, her mother and stepfather relocated from northern Indiana to Lynden, Washington, a border town that’s close to her family, who live in Burnaby, B.C. Since 2008, Dayment, her husband and children have made regular visits to her parents.

“Beside the border crossing sometimes having a long line, my parents have just been a 45 minute drive away from us,” Dayment tells Yahoo Canada News. “We never really considered how devastating it would be for the border to be closed.”

When the pandemic shut down nonessential travel across the border to Canadian travellers, Dayment wasn’t able to see her parents for a year and a half. When Canada opened up its borders to U.S. travellers over the summer, Dayment’s mother decided to make the trip. But it wasn’t as straightforward as before the pandemic.

“She couldn’t just hop in her car and drive up here,” says Dayment. “She has to deal with (travel app) ArriveCAN and get a COVID test right before she comes up...and last time she came up here, they gave her a random COVID test and we had to spend two straight hours to get it done.”

With the U.S. land and sea borders set to reopen next month to vaccinated Canadians, Dayment says it will relieve a bit of the guilt she felt when her elderly mother had to endure travelling - and all the protocols that came with it - to see her.

“We can now start pulling our weight to visit Grandma and Papi and do that work to go see them, instead of making my mom and stepdad go through all this work,” she says. 

Even with the testing, even with the extra steps. All this hassle will be like when they first started making us take off our shoes at the airport. It seemed weird at the time but later on you just took off your shoes.Stace Dayment

Snowbirds rejoice at U.S. border opening

The set reopening for land travellers is especially being welcomed by snowbirds, the demographic of Canadian seniors who spend the winter months in warm American states like Florida.

Evan Rachkovsky with the Canadian Snowbird Association said in an email that the move to reopen U.S. land borders to Canadian travellers will greatly impact its members, 70 per cent of whom travel to the states in their Canadian vehicles.

“This policy change will now allow these travellers to plan for the upcoming travel season,” he wrote. “At this time, we are awaiting further details from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security including an effective date for the border reopening and which COVID-19 vaccines will be accepted.”

Spread trends risk low

The move to reopen land borders to Canadian travellers won’t have much of an impact on virus spread trends, says Raywat Deonandan, an epidemiology and associate professor at the University of Ottawa.

The risk is very low, We’ve been accepting U.S. travellers for a while now and the one-way reopening hasn’t caused any untoward explosion of cases.Raywat Deonandan, Epidemiology, Associate professor at University of Ottawa

While November’s reopening will be for fully vaccinated travellers only, it’s still unclear if that will include mixed vaccines. Deonandan says the real test in whether case numbers will rise after American Thanksgiving and Christmas, when travel between borders spikes significantly. Where Canadian travellers are visiting is also relevant in terms of case numbers rising, as some U.S. states have a better handle on the virus than others.

“Most of the states along the U.S.-Canadian border are well immunized, but if you’re going to Texas or Alabama, any of the red states, it’s a little more challenging,” he says. “You have a higher probability of bringing infection back, but the probability is low.”

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