Everywhere we look, there are signs that the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic is behind us. With vaccinations now widely available, restrictions are easing, businesses are reopening, and people are traveling and gathering again — and most importantly, doing so without causing further outbreaks.
The U.S.- Canada border remains closed to travel deemed non-essential, however. It’s one of the last remaining restrictions New Yorkers face, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo on June 15 announced that nearly all of the rules he imposed to curb the spread of COVID have been lifted.
The border closing, imposed by the U.S. and Canadian federal governments at the start of the pandemic, was the correct choice for halting the spread of such a deadly disease. But given the significant gains made in the battle against COVID in recent weeks, it’s beginning to look like the U.S.- Canada border could be reopened safely sometime soon.
Reopening the border doesn’t, however, appear to be a priority for either President Joe Biden or Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. They have agreed to a series of one-month extensions of the closure since Biden took office in January, promising to reassess the closure as conditions improve.
Trudeau and Canada, for their part, have handled the pandemic much better than we have in the U.S. According to Johns Hopkins University of Medicine’s tally of coronavirus mortality rates, Americans have died of COVID-19 at a rate of 183 per 100,000 citizens, while Canada’s rate is just 69 deaths per 100,000. Canadian polling indicates that much of the resistance to reopening the border has come from Canadians themselves, fearful of irresponsible, disease-carrying Americans entering their country.
The situation has improved significantly in recent weeks, however. Cuomo noted Tuesday that New York’s seven-day positivity rate has declined every day since early April and is now below 0.5%. The Mayo Clinic’s map of vaccination rates by state also shows that states along the Canadian border have some of the highest vaccination rates in the U.S., with the exception of Idaho and North Dakota — states that are led by right-wing governors still more concerned with fealty to Donald Trump than with public health.
The fears of Canadians have been based in part on what was, until recently, a meager supply of vaccines. But that, too, has changed drastically in recent weeks as Canada has bolstered its own supply and received donated vaccines from the U.S. The percentage of Canadians who have received at least one dose of the vaccine has skyrocketed since April and now surpassed the U.S., U.K. and Israel. That’s a credit to Canadians, who — let’s face it — are more serious and less gullible than Americans these days. Canadian Health Minister Patty Hajdu told CBC radio last month that vaccine passports would likely be required for U.S. travelers. To those who are opposed to the idea of vaccine passports, well, tough luck.
The border closure is likely to remain until at least July 21, but shouldn’t be necessary for much longer. A frustrated U.S. Rep. Bill Huizenga, R- Mich., recently told 9&10 News that he hopes it will be open by Thanksgiving. But the Buffalo News reported Wednesday that Canada’s intergovernmental affairs minister, Dominic LeBlanc, is expecting restrictions to be eased somewhat as early as July.
The closure has been hardest on cross-border families split by the pandemic, some of whom have resorted to day-camping sessions along the border where they can see their loved ones in person from a distance. For those who have held on this long, relief should be on the way soon.
— The Daily Star, Oneonta/TNS