Officials along Montana’s northern border are celebrating the news that vaccinated Canadian citizens will be able to enter the United States for the first time in more than a year and a half starting in November.
The border between the United States and Canada was closed to non-essential travel in March 2020 in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. Over the summer, Canada started allowing vaccinated Americans to travel north as long as they presented a negative COVID-19 test, but the United States has not loosened its rules about Canadians coming south until now.
“In alignment with the new international air travel system that will be implemented in November, we will begin allowing travelers from Mexico and Canada who are fully vaccinated for COVID-19 to enter the United States for non-essential purposes, including to visit friends and family or for tourism, via land and ferry border crossings,” said Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro N. Mayorkas. “Cross-border travel creates significant economic activity in our border communities and benefits our broader economy. We are pleased to be taking steps to resume regular travel in a safe and sustainable manner.”
Homeland Security officials did not announce an exact date for when Canadians could come south. Unvaccinated people will still not be able to cross the land border in either direction until further notice.
Montana officials celebrating the news include Gov. Greg Gianforte, who for months has been putting pressure on the Biden administration to fully reopen the border. On Wednesday, he called the decision “long, long overdue.”
Perhaps no one was more excited than state Sen. Mike Cuffe, R-Eureka, who has been trumpeting for months that the border closure was having a major economic impact on Lincoln County. For years, summer and winter have brought an influx of Canadian visitors to northwest Montana, and it wasn’t uncommon for Alberta license plates to equal the number of Montana plates between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Some Canadians even own second homes along the shores of Lake Koocanusa. Cuffe said that though there is an international border between them, towns and families on either side of the line have close bonds that have been strained over the last 18 months.
“I’m really excited,” he said. “This border closure has cost our northern border communities dearly. It’s cost us both financially and emotionally.”
Cuffe said that while reopening the border to non-essential travel is a big step forward, the next step will be to make crossing the border easier. Currently, Americans wanting to travel north need to have a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours prior to arrival. But with cases booming in Montana and testing abilities strained, it can be hard to get tested in that timeframe.
“Hopefully we can find some workable solutions to these issues soon,” Cuffe said.
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