Residents of border towns such as Eureka in Lincoln County have waited patiently to see their Canadian neighbors for the last 19 months.
Since the start of the pandemic, the U.S. closed its shared land border with Canada to non-essential travel. On Nov. 8 it finally reopened to non-essential travelers with some conditions in place: those entering the U.S. must be vaccinated.
While a negative COVID-19 test is not required to cross the border into the U.S., the same does not apply when returning to Canada. That country requires a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test taken within 72 hours of the border crossing to enter the country for all travellers five years of age or older.
Some Eureka residents think the stiff regulations will hamper Canadian’s desirability to head south for the weekend.
COVID-19 tests are widely available in the valley, but many clinics take three to five days to get results back. Getting test results back more quickly can cost about $250.
“If visitors or second homeowners have to have the test going home, that’s going to keep a lot of them home because that’s 300 CAD,” said Sheryl Hostutler of the First & Last Chance Bar, the first establishment upon entry into the U.S. and the last before entering Canada.
“I don’t think it’ll be crazy busy at first, I wish it would be,” Hostutler said. “Ninety-five percent of our customers are the Canadians or tourists.”
For years the tourism industry has supported Tobacco Valley’s economy, and many of those tourists are Canadian. In 2019, more than half of the 20.7 million people who visited the United States from Canada traveled across land borders, according to the U.S. Travel Association.
Administrative Officer Kathy Nells of the Eureka Chamber of Commerce says that despite missing their “next-door neighbors,” local businesses largely thrived during the pandemic.
“When the border shut down, the community rallied around one another,” Nells said. “As far as the border closure affecting us… we miss our neighbors, but we didn’t necessarily feel that loss financially.”
An employee of the Silverado Motel echoed similar sentiments, saying that the motel was still busy this past summer, and nodding to record-breaking crowds in the Flathead Valley and surrounding counties.
“It’ll be nice to have the border open, we do get a lot of Canadians here when they come down,” she said. “But in my opinion it hasn’t affect us too badly.”
There are concerns for Canadians and the regulations on their side of the border.
“There have been several emails sent to the Chamber, asking if we can do something like offer testing,” Nells said. “It’s a federal rule, so we have no say, but besides that, we are excited for the families and friends to reunite on this side of town.”
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