Minnesotans burned at border by new Canadian COVID-19 requirement

It’s been tough enough for Minnesota residents and businesses bordering Canada to make a go of it with the international crossing closed to nonessential travel due to COVID-19 for the last year. Just how tough in the Northwest Angle was made clear in Forum Communications‘ coverage of an International Falls roundtable on reopening the border held by US Representatives Michelle Fischbach, R-MN and Peter Stauber, R-MN and their Canadian counterparts.

Joe Henry, executive director of Lake of the Woods Tourism, said the U.S. and Canada need to work on establishing a travel corridor to cross through Manitoba to the Northwest Angle, whether it be pilot cars, a signed affidavit for Angle-bound visitors to state their travel plans or GPS tracking for tourists to reach the Northwest Angle.

At the same time, businesses up there need financial assistance, Henry said.

“There’s plenty of options,” Henry said. “That 40-mile stretch of road (through Manitoba) is desolate. I don’t know, I’m not a physician, but so far, I don’t think COVID spreads through car windows. These folks need something or they’re not going to be around for long. It’s been 13 months. It’s hard enough to run a business as an entrepreneur in good times.”

In many places COVID-related restrictions have been easing up generally over the past few weeks, even in Minnesota. But apparently not on the Canadian side of the border.

Some Minnesotans who have been allowed to cross the closed border to receive essential services were stunned to learn about a new COVID test imposed by Canada out of the blue in order to gain reentry and return home.

[Resort owner Paul] Colson’s frustration hit a new level early Tuesday morning. While leaving the Northwest Angle to attend the meeting in International Falls, Colson said he was informed by a Canada Border Services Agency official — upon entering Manitoba en route to the U.S. — that he would have to pass a PCR COVID-19 test before he would be allowed back through Canada to return to his home.

Canada implemented the PCR testing requirement in mid-February for travelers entering the country by road. Until recent days, the policy hasn’t affected permanent Northwest Angle residents, who have been able to travel through Canada for essential services in border communities such as Roseau and Warroad, Minn.

It’s not just an inconvenience. The results from the required test can take days to come in.

“So that’s where I’m at today, I don’t have a home — a home I can get to — because there’s ice on the lake,” Colson said before Tuesday’s meeting. “I can’t take my sled, I can’t take a boat, there’s no airport. The only way I can get home is if I find somebody to take me in there with a helicopter.”

Even if he does take the PCR test, the fastest he’s heard of anyone getting test results where he lives is four days, Colson said. The rapid antigen tests that provide results in 15 minutes aren’t acceptable under Canada’s policy.

Today the CDC issued a travel advisory recommending even vaccinated Americans avoid travel to Canada due to low vaccination rates and high risk of infection. Not exactly the signal from the federal government those whose livelihoods depend on reopening the border were looking for.