SNOHOMISH COUNTY, Wash. - Washington is one step closer to welcoming back Canadian neighbors. The Biden administration announced Tuesday that travel restrictions will be lifted in November at the Canada and Mexico borders for fully vaccinated people. Communities across Washington are hopeful the reopening will boost tourism, local economy and help recover from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Canadian visitors are currently allowed to fly to Washington. Come November during the reopening, they will be able to drive to Washington. Wednesday, Governor Jay Inslee said in a written statement the reopening, "Should have happened sooner: Canada has one of the highest vaccination rates in the world, and Canadians were already allowed to travel to the U.S. by air throughout the pandemic."
Officials with Tulalip Resort Casino said local guests have been the lifeline surviving the pandemic without Canadian tourists.
"We’ve kind of ridden that roller coaster up and down—restrictions loosening, tightening. But it’s really been dependent on our local Washingtonians, then it kind of expanded into Oregon and Idaho. But those guests from the north those are the ones that represent an even larger number," said Troy Longwith, vice president of hotel operations at Tulalip Resort Casino.
Longwith said before the borders closed, they would host about 500 charter buses per year full of Canadian tourists—representing tens of thousands of people gaming and staying overnight.
"That’s a big chunk of folks that we just haven’t seen for almost 20 months. So, whenever there’s been an inkling of the Canadian border maybe opening, those folks that we talk to almost daily up there are just chomping at the bit," said Longwith.
Surrounding shops and restaurants also felt the void without visitors from the north. However, no community has been impacted quite like Point Roberts, a town of about 1,1000 people right on the border. Point Roberts Chamber of Commerce president Brian Calder said he’s cautiously optimistic about the reopening.
"I’m just hoping that it isn’t another freight train coming down that tunnel where we see the light and it drives over us. I hope it’s a light opening up our border," said Calder.
The chamber president said the concern is Canada currently requires its residents to take a COVID test before returning. Point Roberts only has the capacity to test two days a week. Calder said the fear is if Canada’s testing rule isn’t updated, half of the town’s day trip tourists won’t come. He said the local government is offering to pay for rapid testing capabilities as a solution.
"At the border, five minutes, that test then boom. That would work! But leaving it the way it is right now at a cost of $160 [per test] plus you lose two days waiting for results so you can get back through, that isn’t going to work," said Calder.
He explained the local economy and tourism took a drastic fall. Before the shutdown, he said the town would see 1.5 million visitors per year in 2018 and 2019. Now, Point Roberts is lucky to see 100,000 visitors.
"90 percent of our economic activity—marina, golf course, shopping, parcel posts, gas stations—is driven by Canadians, not Americans. 75 percent of property in Point Roberts is owned by Canadians, 75 percent is owned by Canadians! So, we’re totally connected and dependent on our brotherhood, sisterhood with Canada," said Calder.
The border reopening will only be available to those who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Proof of vaccination will be checked before entering the U.S.
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