Essential workers reflect on a year of travel between Canada and the US

(WXYZ) — For nearly a year, the U.S.-Canada border has been closed to all non-essential travel in response to the ongoing pandemic.

On March 18, 2020, when the border closure was first announced, it appeared to be a temporary response to a quickly evolving health crisis. Several times the reopening of the border was pushed back. Now, as we approach the one-year anniversary of this global pandemic, the Canadian government has maintained that non-essential travel from the U.S. into Canada will remain halted until COVID-19 cases in the United States are more under control.

Whether the border will reopen by March 21 is a looming question, with newly elected President Joe Biden pushing for dialogue between the Canadian and Mexican governments in an effort to reopen the northern and southern borders in the safest manner.

The Canadian government has since incorporated stricter measures for permitted travel, adding mandatory COVID testing which is only exempt for some essential workers, as well as mandatory quarantining.

Economic Impact of the Border Closure

The economic implications of the border closure have been great, hitting Detroit tourism hard over the last year while forcing the local tourism industry to make adjustments.

“There’s no question we’ve had to make critical adjustments,” said Larry Alexander, the CEO of Detroit Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau in an interview with 7 Action News in July 2020.

For the Henry Ford Museum, Canadians accounted for about four percent of all visitors with roughly 72,000 crossing over into metro Detroit for visits while also patronizing local hotels, restaurants and boutiques.

“It’s actually 65 percent of our total international market,” said Carol Kendra, the vice president of Business Development, Strategy, and Engagement for The Henry Ford.

A Mutual Decision Between Countries

“We will be, by mutual consent, temporarily closing (sic) our Northern Border with Canada to non-essential traffic. Trade will not be affected,” wrote then President Donald Trump in a tweet on March 18, 2020, to announce the border closure.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called it a “collaborative and reciprocal measure,” as well as a “prudent approach” to the coronavirus, which was declared a global pandemic just days before on March 11.

Supply chains, including the trucking industry, were not impacted by the closure.

Essential workers, such as government officials, border and immigration officers, and health care workers traveling between Canada and metro Detroit were allowed to do so without the need for pre-entry tests and mandatory quarantine after entry into Canada, according to the country’s listed exemptions and COVID guidelines.

Still, adjustments to this new normal were often felt daily by essential workers traveling during the pandemic.

A Year of Border Travel for Essential Workers

“I was actually concerned when COVID started coming around because there were talks about the border closing and at first they didn’t mention anything about people who work in the states,” said Jessie Richtig, who is American living in Windsor, Canada for the past two years while working at Royal Oak Beaumont.

She says her experience crossing the border almost daily as an essential worker has been somewhat of a “breeze” since the pandemic began. She has never had much trouble crossing over into Detroit as an American, and with Canada absorbing the cost for essential workers to cross over the bridge into Detroit, that made travel even easier.

(AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

However, Richtig says her only inconvenience caused by the border closure will arise following her hip surgery scheduled for the end of March.

Under different circumstances, her husband would assist her in travel between Canada and the U.S., post-surgery. But because her surgery doesn’t fall under an essential task, her husband would have to quarantine for 14 days after returning. With no benefits in place for non-essential travel, his job would not cover those missed days. Richtig said it could cause financial strain for her family.

So instead, she’ll stay with a co-worker in metro Detroit for a few weeks until she’s able to travel back across the border on her own.

Additional Coronavirus information and resources:

View a global coronavirus tracker with data from Johns Hopkins University.

See complete coverage on our Coronavirus Continuing Coverage page.

Visit our The Rebound Detroit, a place where we are working to help people impacted financially from the coronavirus. We have all the information on everything available to help you through this crisis and how to access it.

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